The 20th Sunday After Pentecost
October 17-18, 2009
Text: Mark 10:17-22
Dear Friends in Christ,
Down in the Smokey Mountains, near Chattanooga, Tennessee, there is a place where there is a natural rock bridge. You have to walk some distance to get up to it. One of the routes you can take, goes through a narrow cut in the rock called the “Fat Man’s Squeeze.” I was about seven years old when we went through the place. I had no trouble getting through. I wasn’t too sure what the big deal was. These days, I understand completely, considering that I somewhat resemble that title. I would probably have to suck it in a little to get through. The truth is that it isn’t really that tight. Otherwise they wouldn’t let people through. But many adults do have to shuffle through kind of side ways. But needless to say, you wouldn’t ride a horse through there or anything like that.
Our text could be termed the fat camel’s squeeze. Christ makes reference to something termed the “Eye of The Needle.” This was very likely a reference to a small gate in the wall of many cities. In the middle ages they called such a gate a postern. This was a gate that was intended for certain emergencies. It was usually quite small for a man on foot. It might not always have been on ground level. So you might have needed a ladder. So picture this scene. First you get a camel to climb up a ladder. Then you get him to suck in his hump, and crawl through the door on his belly. There is only one place that you would ever see this happen - in a Warner Brothers cartoon with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. It would be the kind of thing the Three Stooges would attempt.
Now, at first glance, one might say our text is about money. No, that is not correct. It is about faith and trust. Money and wealth is only the back drop against which Jesus talks about faith. Our text pick right up where last week’s Gospel left off. Last week, you may recall, the rich ruler asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor, and to follow him. The man left Jesus. So is Jesus saying money is bad? No. If he were, he’d be contradicting Scripture. Abraham was a wealthy man and Scripture says that God counted him as righteous. David was wealthy and Scripture says that he was a man after God’s own heart. We could go on throughout the Scriptures and find many true believers who were very wealthy. The money is not the problem. The lack of faith and trust is the issue.
The real question is one of trust. Where do you place your trust? And for what purpose? What do you understand as the source of your wealth? Faith is a funny thing. It is only as valuable and useful as the object of faith. To see this we must look to everyday things. If I turn on a light switch, the light comes on. But if I had no faith in light switches to turn on lights, I would never bother to turn them on, and I would remain in darkness. So such faith is a very proper thing, born of our experience with light switches. But if we trust a light switch to take us to Wal Mart, we have an absurd faith, no matter how strong it is. A light switch will never take us to Wal Mart no matter how many times we flip it. It is simply incapable of delivering that. Many Americans place their faith in faith itself. But faith has nothing of its own to give. Faith is a worthless object of faith.
So where is your trust. Many trust in their wealth. It’s not that a rich man can’t go to heaven. But many rich men trust in their money. They think because they are rich and powerful God will have to regard them favorably. But God does not judge according to worldly importance. The most powerful king, is still a sinner who must confess their sins before God and be absolved of them. The most powerful king gets to heaven the same way you and I do - by trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus Christ says, that many who are first on earth, will be last in the judgement. In other words, many of the richest, most powerful, and most famous people, will not be in heaven. And many poor people, who nevertheless trusted in God for their salvation, will have places of honor in heaven. God’s elect include people of all stations. They will all be there, not because of what they have done, but because of what Christ has done. This is why the disciples ask, who can be saved? For by earthly standards no one can be saved. This is because only Christ can save us. It requires no earthly power, but one hundred percent divine power.
So did Jesus really want the rich ruler to sell everything he owned and follow Him? Yes. Because for this man, his wealth was what was preventing him from following Jesus. This of course would not be true of all people. But for each of us there is that thing with which we struggle. There is always something that has the potential to rob us of our faith. It might be a desire for power. It might be a desire for romantic love. It might even being something that is good. Sometimes people get so wrapped up in helping the poor, that they have no time for Christ. So their own work for the poor becomes the thing that they trust. The question has been raised if even Mother Teresa is in heaven. From statements that she made, one could conclude that she trusted more in her own works than in Christ. But of course we cannot read, with certainty, the condition of another’s heart. All that can be said, with surety, of Mother Teresa, is what can be said all people, of you and me. If she trusted in Christ, she is in heaven. If she trusted in her works, as great and Godly as those were, she is not.
So where is your trust? Is it in Christ, or do we carry a lot of other baggage around? Are we really trusting something else? Every Christian, will, on some level have this struggle. But it is as individual as each person. One might trust in their knowledge. Another might trust in their athletic ability. Another might trust in their ability to shoot straight. Another might trust in their wealth. All these things are potentially good things. All of these things could well have a proper place in our life. But they must not displace Christ. Our trust for forgiveness of our sins and eternal life must be in Christ, alone. He alone has the power to forgive our sins and give us life. No one else can do this. Nothing else can do this. Thus, we must push all else aside, all that gets in the way and follow Christ.