As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone….
Here we are at yet another unusual Thanksgiving weekend. Compared to last year when we were encouraged by Public Health Officials to keep Thanksgiving to our own households, vaccines have changed what is possible. Yet, the pandemic situation in Manitoba is remarkably similar to last year, I am sure many of us are remaining cautious without Thanksgiving activities.
Thanksgiving is not a Christian holiday. Rather it is rooted in the celebration of the harvest for the gifts and bounty of the land provided to us for the year. Harvest festivals are as old as human beings cultivating the land, and certainly thankfulness and gratitude are connected to our faith.
And thanksgiving is a moment to step back the consider the bigger picture of our lives and communities. This year that might prove to be a difficult task. We have been living small for a year and half now, with things to both bring us hope for an end to pandemic but also realities that have not lived up to expectations. Our journey out of this crisis is going to be neither short nor straightforward.
As we have been hearing for a number of weeks from Mark’s gospel, Jesus again encounters someone who is struggling to get it. But it isn’t Jesus’ followers or disciples, and nor it is Jesus chief antagonists the Pharisees and Scribes. Instead a curious and wondering rich man comes to Jesus with a big question. You could also say that he was having a Thanksgiving moment. A moment when he is considering the big picture of his life and asking some pretty questions.
The man comes to Jesus right to point, ““Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Right away Jesus starts challenging the Rich man’s assumptions. Good? Why do you call me good? Only God alone is good. And lest we hear the Santa Claus version of the question, “Have you been a good by this year Timmy?” “Good”in this case is surely connected to the idea of righteousness. Being good and righteous with God is more than just following the rules of being nice, it is justified and righteous down to the very core of one’s being. Jesus is undermining the Rich man’s assumption that goodness or righteousness is something to be achieved.
And then Jesus continues. He starts to list the commandments. In fact he lists six of them. Commandments intended for us to keep good relationships with our neighbour. But it is noteworthy the commandments that Jesus omits… all the commands that have to do with our relationship to God. Having one God, taking the Lord’s name in vain and keeping the sabbath.
But still the rich man doesn’t hear any of Jesus’ clues in his answer. Like so many who are used to being in control, he sees inheriting eternal life as a problem to fix, a puzzle to solve. He claims that he has kept all the commandments. You can sense that the rich man is getting ready to declare victory on the whole eternal life thing. So Jesus gets ready to throw a curve ball. But first Jesus looks at the man with love. He wants this man to understand what he is asking, he wants this rich man to understand the nature of the mission that he is on, the Mission of the Messiah to bring the Kingdom of God near.
Jesus says, “You have to give it all up. All the money, wealth, power, security, comfort and control. All of it. And then follow me.”
But the rich man can’t. Of course he can’t. Jesus knew that wouldn’t be able to do it.
The rich man cannot let go of all the things. He cannot let go of all the things that form his identity, his understanding of the world, his certainty and foundation.
Letting go is hard to do. We have always known it is hard, but during the past 18 months we have learned lessons how much we hold on to those things that bring us certainty and security, those safety blankets and supports around us that give us our sense of self, our foundations and strength.
All the things that have been put to the test during this time of crisis. In fact, almost certainly we have held on even tighter. Whether it is family or our jobs or our wealth or our hobbies and passions. Even our faith and faith communities. Our convictions and opinions, our politics and biases.
We have been holding on, hoping that if we hold tight enough to those things that we can make it through the storms around us. We have hoped that we can use those security blankets, the things we think we control, to fix our problems and solve our puzzles. And yet know that that hasn’t exactly been going well.
With all the drama around pandemic restrictions and now vaccinations, we see people holding on to things that are making it harder.
With revelations about our history of racism, sexism, colonization, economic inequality we have learned that holding onto our past or the status quo isn’t working.
With this struggles being faced by churches, volunteers groups, charities and nearly every public institution, that holding on, hoping to return to the past will not fix the problems.
We have discovered over and over again that we don’t have the solutions we wish we had.
Jesus hammers the point home with a now famous passage saying, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus isn’t talking about cramming a camel through the eye of the needle. He is talking about the challenge of trying to get a notorious stubborn animal who is hard to get to do the simplest of tasks when dig their heels in and comparing that to how even more stubborn human beings can be. The rich man just cannot let go in order to see what Jesus is telling him.
And that is Jesus’ point.
The rich man wants to know how he can inherit eternal life, and Jesus response is to first divert him from notions that there is something he can do and refocus him on caring for his neighbour. And when that doesn’t work, Jesus suggest something impossible.
But not because eternal life is impossibly hard. But because getting there, earning our salvation by our own merit is impossible.
Jesus message from the start has not been about how to get into the Kingdom, but how the Kingdom of God is coming near to humanity, coming near to us. The rich man is focused on himself. The rich man cannot hear what God is doing.
The disciples ask the question that the rich man could bear to hang around and ask. They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
God is the one doing the saving.
God is the one who saves.
God does the work and gives us eternal life.
We do not earn it, we do not achieve it, we don’t problem solve ourselves into it, we don’t hold onto our power, control, and security in order to find our way to it.
God does the work.
And that is so hard to hear.
It is hard to hear that there is nothing we can do, because we desperately want to do something, we want some measure of power and control.
It is why holding onto our faith and having faith are often two different things, it is why the rich man cannot do the impossible and give up his wealth.
It is why we are so divided as a society, why we struggle to get on the same page about things, we just cannot trust those in authority or those who vote for the other guys.
It is why we have been holding on so tight to our own personal security blankets during this crisis, whatever they may be.
Because hearing that God is the one doing the work of saving us is unsettling to the core.
And yet, even as grip our own power and control and security as tightly as we can… God finds a way.
The christ enters into created life, meets with sinners, and tells them the good news anyways.
The Messiah walks the path of salvation, even when that path goes through death.
Jesus steps out of the tomb and into new life bringing with him dumbfounded disciples who somehow carryon that message around the globe.
The church, despite all our flaws and imperfections, our mistakes and divisions and conflicts, still has managed to proclaim the good news for 2000 years.
We though holding on tightly to whatever we can in have still been gathered here, gathered together as community to hear the promise of the Word, to be washed in Holy Baths, to be fed by Holy Meals despite all the odds.
No we cannot save ourselves, no matte how hard we try, no matter the power and control wield. And yet we are forgiven, granted new life and salvation, none the less.
[Because] Jesus looks at us and says], “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”