Skip to content

Sermon for Proper 23/OPrdinary 30B Mark 10:17-31 Who can be saved?

August 24, 2018

RYR 2Who can be saved? Words by the disciples just after our gospel passage


In the name………


When I was twelve, I won a Bible Reading competition in Southampton.


Today’s gospel was the passage I had to read.

It has haunted me ever since.



I wish it wasn’t in the bible.


I am not a fundamentalist


So I could just ignore it


Or say what fundamentalists say;


Jesus was speaking to THIS man


Because wealth was HIS barrier


Your barrier might be a different one


So you can be rich and Christian


But I’m not convinced.


In this very church I have sung those words; Take my silver and my gold, not a might would I withold.’


Didn’t mean a word of it


And I’ve heard those words of Helder Camara


If you’ve got two pairs of shoes, one was stolen from a 3rd world peasant.


But if I wear the same pair of shoes every day my feet smell.


To be honest, I have felt smug about my Christian giving


I don’t give to beggars


I have made standing orders to charities – and they claim back the tax


So that it is an act of the will rather than act of emotion


But I still have plenty left in my current account at the end of the month.


I did that long Ignatian retreat which ends with the prayer where you tell God you give him everything


And found it difficult to say the prayer


One priest once told me it’s all right to want to want to love God.


To follow Jesus….at a distance


And before an operation, getting scared, I told Jesus I gave my life to him


But I couldn’t help adding the words


But you know I’ll want it back again if I come round from the anesthetic.




Remember John Lennon’s song Imagine?


Imagine no possessions?


Well just imagine resigning from your job


No more alarm clock, no more daily grind


Imagine selling your car and giving away the proceeds.


No more traffic jams


Imagine giving away the contents of your wardrobe


No more worrying about what to wear


Imagine selling your house


No more mortgage, insurance, council tax, water rate


Imagine selling this church building, the silver chalices


Do you feel free?


Well, the Jewish tradition that our man in the story comes from


They saw wealth as a blessing


Because it stopped you worrying about all these things so that you could concentrate on your spiritual life


Wealth enabled spirituality, it didn’t hinder it.


Commenting on John Lennon’s song, somebody who grew up in the Gorbals, Glasgow

said it was utter bollocks


Lennon had several mansions and loads of dosh


In the gorbals they already had no possessions


Or what they did have was out of a catalogue, on the never never


They wanted possessions




So perhaps the fundamentalists are right


It’s about attitude.


Note the man’s question:


What must I do to inherit eternal life?


My bills are paid


The lesser anxieties – how to feed my family, educate my kids


They’re taken care of


I am insured against all sorts of disaster


Except death


I want to possess cast-iron security about the after life


And maybe the point is that the Christian faith is not about certainties


But about a longing for a God who goes beyond us


Who calls us to risk-taking and detachment


We are all attached to things that fill the aching void


Money, yes


but also work – I can be a workaholic and get praise for my commitment and dedication


drugs, houses, cars, social status, education, success


All of these little barriers we put up to stop us realty encountering the other, encountering God.




So I squirm and wriggl out of taking this story literally


One sure way to make myself feel better is to make it a political story


Then it’s not about me having to change but about my trying to change the world


There is precedence in the text.


Jesus asks him if he’s kept all the commandments:


‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness.’


Right so far. But, then, instead of adding the next commandment, “You shall not covet,


Jesus changes the list and says to the man,


‘You shall not defraud; . . .


Why replace: ‘You shall not covet’ with ‘You shall not defraud’?


Remember the man’s question – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”


This man had no doubt inherited most of what he owned;


what made most people rich in those days was owning property,


we can assume that when Mark says “he had many possessions” he meant that he had many properties”.


most wealthy landowners in those days became more wealthy by acquiring the land of their debt-defaulting neighbours,


so it is reasonable to assume that one who had many properties” had become wealthy at other people’s expense


Matthew adds that our man was ‘young’


Luke that he was a ‘ruler’ – archon


A rich young ruler


A Jew with ambition who’d climbed the ladder of success in the occuping Roman Imperial system


He’d have felt good, eased his conscience by giving generously to charities


Typical capitalist, believing in trickle-down effect


and as for those commandments he claims to have kept:


Well that’s brazen


The Talmud claims that the only people ever to have kept the whole law were Abraham, Moses and Aaron


He didn’t realty keep the Sabbath as long as any of his slaves had to work


He’d never murdered a man face to face but most likely he had degraded peasant farmers,


Forced out of their security, made to work on a day-to-day basis until they became too ill to work,


Then didn’t get paid, didn’t eat, died.


He’d not borne false witness


But he’d probably said that the poor were poor because it was their own fault


Whereas it was his


So Jesus decides to edit the commandments for this man’s benefit.


When the man claims to have obeyed all these laws, including this new injunction not to defraud, Jesus says, “Fine. Prove it.


There is one thing you lack; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven..


dismantle the system that has made you rich at the expense of others.


heaven’s treasure is ours only when we take steps to do something about the way the goods of the earth are unequally distributed.




So today’s gospel tells us to get involved in politics?


I don’t know.


Maybe it tells us all different things


Whatever God is telling each one of us at our own stage of the journey.


What I do believe is that we are created in the image of the Generous Giving God


The way to keep our real life need for money from becoming a life-killing obsession is to live up to the image we were created in, and to become generous – with our time and talents as well as our money


I also take heart that this story is the only place in the synoptic gospels where we are told that Jesus actually loved anybody.


Mark has a lot of anger and indignation from Jesus – not least directed towards the rich and the religious.


But here: ‘Jesus, looking upon him, loved him.’


Suppose I did give away all my shoes and empty my current account


I’d do it to impress people, to earn God’s love, to inherit eternal life


And St. Paul tells us that you can’t earn your salvation


So I’ll just muddle through, wriggle a bit more


But feel that Jesus loves me too

Return to the home page


From → My Sermons

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: