Synopsis: Why is it so hard for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God? Jesus teaches us that it isn’t wealth itself that is the problem; it is our attitude toward our wealth that can cause us to feel estranged from God.
Scripture: Mark 10: 17-31
In today’s world, security is big business. People spend a lot of money on security. They buy insurance policies, contribute to IRAs and 401Ks, and invest in the stock market. They buy virus protection programs for their electronic devices and put security systems in place to protect homes and businesses. For example, there’s a company called Ultimate Security Systems, Inc. Its by-line is “Your one-stop shop for all your electronic security needs.”
Most people don’t lack knowledge of the things the world offers to help alleviate our anxiety about the future. However, what they do lack is the knowledge of what will help alleviate our anxiety about the future forever – of where our ultimate security lies – the one-stop shop for all our security needs.
That is what our scripture reading for today is all about. First, some context. Jesus went up a mountain with Peter, James, and John. There these three disciples witnessed Jesus transfigured and his speaking with Moses and Elijah. They return to the other disciples, and Jesus begins to prepare them for the last stage of his journey – Jerusalem and the cross.
On the road to Capernaum, the disciples had a heated discussion about who was the greatest among them. To deal with their pride, Jesus taught them that the greatest in his kingdom is humble like a child and welcomes the lowly. He also warned them of the grave cost of causing those who are vulnerable to fall into sin and of ignoring the sin within themselves.
Jesus left Capernaum and entered into Judea, where he is tested by the Pharisees with a question about divorce. People were also bringing children to Jesus to lay his hands on them and bless them. The disciples protested, but Jesus was indignant when he heard about it.
He told them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
That brings us to our scripture reading for today. Jesus is now in Judea, and he is setting out on a journey toward Jerusalem. A man kneels before him and asks him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Unlike the Pharisees, this man is not asking this question to test Jesus. His words and actions demonstrate that he has a lot of respect for Jesus, so we can safely assume his question is sincere.
Jesus reminds the man that no one is good save God alone. He then lists the commandments, but notice that all of them are the ones concerning our relationships with one another, not the ones regarding our relationship with God.
The man responds that he has obeyed those commandments since his youth. What do we think of this man? Is he lying, or self-deceived? Is he a hypocrite? The text tells us that Jesus gazed at him and loved him, so perhaps we should love him too. Perhaps he was “blameless with respect to righteousness under the law” as Paul states about himself in his letter to the Philippians.
The man is obviously a devout Jew. He keeps the commandments – at least the ones related to human interactions. But what about the ones that Jesus didn’t list – the ones about our relationship with God? Was it truly God alone he worshipped, or were there idols hidden in his heart?
Jesus’ challenge made the answer to that question clear, and the man walked away very unhappy. His relationships with other people were good, but his riches had gotten in between him and God.
Jesus’ comment on how hard it is for the wealthy to enter into the Kingdom of God leaves the disciples perplexed. To drive home his point, Jesus uses a shocking exaggeration: It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle! We all know how small the eye of a needle is and how huge a camel is.
Why are the disciples so shocked? Well, they lived in a culture that associated wealth and power with divine favor. It’s that hard even for those who are the most blessed? If it’s that hard even for this man, an obviously law-abiding, socially-responsible Jewish citizen, who then can be saved?
Jesus’ response is perfect. “For mortals it is impossible” (We can’t earn our own way into the Kingdom of God), “but not for God; for God all things are possible” (We get there only through God’s grace).
You see, the man’s question itself revealed that he felt estranged from his Heavenly Father. Imagine if your children came to you and asked, “What must I do to earn my inheritance?”
They don’t have to earn it, right? They are entitled to it because they are your children. If they are asking you that question, you’d have to wonder if they had somehow forgotten who they are or if they believe that you have disowned them for some reason.
We are God’s children. We don’t need to earn the gifts God has graciously given us. He gives them to us simply because we are his children, and he loves us. The Kingdom of God is our inheritance, and that includes eternal life. All we need to do is remember who we are and God’s love for us. If we feel estranged, it is certainly not because God has rejected or abandoned us.
There’s nothing wrong with being wealthy, but if our wealth is more important to us than our relationship with God, then our attitude is keeping us estranged from God – not the wealth itself.
Peter asserts that he and the rest of the disciples had left everything behind to follow Jesus. Now, they were not rich like this man. Many of them were quite poor, like Peter, barely surviving as fishermen.
But whether they realize it or not, as followers of Jesus, they are now really living by God’s grace. They do not need worldly wealth because they are no longer estranged from their Heavenly Father and their ginormous family. All of Creation belongs to them, so they literally have everything they need: people (brothers and sisters; mothers and children) and things (houses and fields).
They will also face persecution because they reject the world’s values, but they will be the first to inherit eternal life because they are the last on the totem pole when it comes to who the world values. The world admires arrogant rulers, not humble servants.
What does this teaching have to say to us today? As with many of Jesus’ teachings, they are timeless, so this teaching is just as relevant today as it was in Jesus’ time.
Our relationship with God is just as important as our relationship with others, so if we somehow feel estranged from God, we can’t experience the bliss of our union with God.
We are a three-part being: body, mind, and soul. When we come into this physical existence, the soul takes on a body and a mind. Some call it the body-mind, and it’s written as “body dash mind.” The body-mind is what makes up the personal self: the body and what I call “the mind of me.”
The personal self is like a thread in the Tapestry of Life – a beautiful tapestry that expresses Who God Is. Think about how thin a piece of thread must be in order to fit through the eye of a needle. The thicker the thread is, the harder it is to fit it through there. If the Kingdom of God is like the eye of a needle, and the body-mind is like a thread, then if the body-mind is too thick, it won’t be able to fit through.
What makes the body-mind too thick? In short, anything that causes us to identify more with the personal self than with Who We Really Are. Those who practice Buddhism call these things “attachments.” The Buddha taught that attachments are the root cause of all our suffering. I believe Jesus is teaching the same timeless wisdom here.
The man in our scripture reading for today was attached to his wealth. Wealth gives us the ability to enjoy many worldly pleasures and material things. I’m sure this man didn’t want to give up the lifestyle that he had grown accustomed to. This is a bodily type of attachment. What would he do with himself if he wasn’t so busy indulging his desires and taking care of all of his accoutrements?
This man’s wealth not only kept him attached to pleasures and possessions, but it also kept him attached to his status. This is a mental type of attachment. Who would he be if he were not a rich man? If he was as poor as a pauper? He would be a nobody. He would be nothing – so he feared.
To better understand this rich man’s spiritual plight, imagine that you are an actor or actress. You are wearing a costume, and you are on a stage. You are acting in a play. Imagine that in this play, you are a very rich person. You are wearing very lavish clothing and jewelry. You are decked out like royalty!
And not only that, you also live a huge castle with a grand courtyard, and you get to go to feasts and eat and drink until you are about ready to explode. You get to take baths in luxurious hot tubs. You can have anything you want; people wait on you hand and foot.
As a good actor or actress, you really get into this role. You even do your best to think like this rich person with all his or her wants, needs, and fears. You take on the attitude of this rich person so that you can do a good job on stage. You want to do a good job expressing who this character is. That is your job, after all.
Now, imagine that this play is going on non-stop for many years, and because of that, you never really give yourself the chance to “get out of character.” Even when you step off the stage, you still feel the need to act, think, and feel as this character does. Over time, the memory of who you really are fades away.
That is the spiritual problem the rich man in our story has, and Jesus recognized this. The man is just playing the part of a rich man in God’s play so that God can experience what it is like to have and do all these things through him.
But since he has never taken the time to “get out of character,” he has forgotten who he is at the core of his being – without the costume and jewelry and other elaborate props. He has forgotten who he is without the “storyline” of a rich man’s life.
Jesus basically said to that man, “Step off the stage, leave all the props behind, take off your costume and jewelry, drop your storyline, and follow me. That is the only way to inherit eternal life – to experience the core of your being.”
If he had accepted Jesus’ challenge, he finally would have been free to find God within himself. The personal self can keep us quite busy if we let it – so busy chasing after all our worldly desires that we never have time to look within and find God there. We never “detach” from the world long enough to experience who we really are at the core of our being – within the eye of the needle.
But how do we make ourselves thin enough to slip through the “eye of the needle” – to step off the stage so that we can experience the core of our being?
Some believe that only in death are we able to detach from the personal self. Neale Donald’s Walsch, the author of Conversations with God, wrote a fascinating book called Home with God: In a Life that Never Ends. In this book, Neale has a conversation with God about death.
According to Neale’s book, we go through three stages when we die. The first stage is when we release our identification with the body. This happens when we come to the realization that we have indeed died, but we’re somehow still alive.
The second stage is when we release our identification with the mind. We experience our idea of the afterlife until we get to the point where we say to ourselves, “Surely, there must be more to the afterlife than this.”
That is when we come to the realization that we create our reality with our minds, but we are not the mind. Once we release our identification with the mind and our ideas about the afterlife, we experience the afterlife as it really is – which is, of course, far better than any limited ideas we held about it.
The third stage is when we release our identification with the soul – yes, the soul. The soul is not destroyed; it is simply reintegrated. We melt into the light of God, and we remember our total unity with God. We experience untold bliss in this moment, and we can stay here for as long as we want.
When we re-emerge, all three parts are integrated – body, mind, and soul as one. At this point comes the Holy Inquiry. It’s the most important question of our existence. The question is this: “Do you want to stay?” Do you want to stay in the spiritual world, or go back to the physical world? If we feel there is something incomplete about our last life, we can return to it. If we choose to stay, we can enjoy the spiritual world for as long as we wish.
But every soul eventually decides to be reborn into physicality and to continue to experience its divinity in whatever way, shape, or form the soul chooses. That is what God does; he makes himself known through his infinite expressions, and as much as our personal self grumbles about life, the soul finds it a great joy to be able to experience its divinity in grander ways for all eternity. That is what soul growth is all about, and soul growth is what life is all about.
So, if we believe that we must die in order to experience release from the body and mind, then that is what we experience. But the truth is that we don’t have to believe that. We don’t have to wait until death. We can do it while we are still experiencing the body-mind in physicality.
How can we do that?
Well, some of you have may have already experienced it – at least for a moment. You may have felt yourself melt away and joined with All That Is. If not, that’s OK. All that matters is that you are willing to experience it. If you are willing, then by God’s grace you will have that experience because there is nothing God wants more than for you to return to him.
We set up the blockades – not God. Our blockades are fear-based. We are afraid of God because we have been taught many mistaken ideas about God. That is one of the reasons why Jesus came – to teach us that we don’t have to be afraid of God. In God lies our ultimate security – not in our bank accounts.
We need not fear having nothing because God gives us everything we need. All we need to do is ask, believe, and receive. And we need not fear being a nothing because in God we are literally everything. Everything there is! We have everything because we are everything!
Since the blockades exist in the mind, we can’t think our way back to God. That doesn’t work, trust me. Because I am a thinker. I analyze everything to death. The hardest thing for me is to stop thinking so much, and that’s the fastest way to experience the core of our being – to just live in the moment.
This sounds so easy, but it’s not so easy for humans because we are so addicted to the mind of me. We believe the mind of me is a good guide, and the mind of me does everything it can to pretend to be a good guide. But don’t be deceived: it is like a wolf in shepherd’s clothing.
Most of the things the mind of me has us worrying about and imparting its “marvelous” advice about are illusions. They are about a future which isn’t here yet and can’t be known. The Mind of Christ is the life expert; it guides us in the present moment. We can deal effectively with what is actually showing up, but we can’t deal with illusions.
So be willing, don’t think about it too much, and live in the present moment. That is how we can open ourselves to experiencing the core of our being – our unity with God – and the peace, love, and joy of our ultimate security.
Let’s pray together: Lord, we are willing to experience the core of our being by dropping the attachments that are causing us to feel estranged from our Heavenly Father. Make these attachments known to us, and give us the grace to live in the present moment. AMEN.
Vitalis Hoffman, Mark G. “Commentary on Mark 10:17-31.” workingpreacher.org, 11 Oct. 2015, http:\\www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-28-2/commentary-on-mark-1017-31-7
Walsch, Neale Donald. “Home with God: In a Life that Never Ends.” Atria Books, 2006.