Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24B)
October 17, 2021
Text: Mark 10:23-31
Money is not the source of your life. That is the lie Satan tells you. And you’re pretty easy to convince. You may grasp intellectually that this cannot be true. But you too often act as though it is. You look to money, riches, to provide for you, protect you, help you in times of trouble, give you joy, and enable you to live a full and fulfilled life. But do you see the position to which you’ve elevated money? You’ve made it an idol. You’ve made it your god. Again, let’s call it by its true name, Mammon. And it works exactly as Satan intends it. It shuts out from you the true Source of your life, the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the true riches He delights to pour out upon you: Eternal life with Him in His Kingdom, the forgiveness of sins, the wiping away of guilt and shame and pain and tears, the resurrection of the body, and true and eternal wholeness, peace, and joy. Money can’t buy that! And that is precisely the point Jesus was making to the rich young man when He told him to “go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21; ESV). And that is precisely the point He is making to His disciples in our text, and to us as He preaches this Gospel this morning: “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (v. 23). Mammon, makes a very poor God. And if you fashion it as your god, it will rob you of the one, true God.
The disciples are amazed at this. Not because they think money makes a wonderful deity. But because the Jews believed that, at least among the chosen people of God, material wealth was a sign of God’s favor, a reward for a life well-lived according to the Law. Poverty was a punishment for sin. And so, if anybody can be assured a place in the Kingdom of God, surely this rich young man, who has kept the Commandments from his youth, as attested by God’s giving him such vast wealth and possessions, will be counted among them. And if he can’t make it, well then… “who can be saved?” (v. 26).
And before you wag your head at this silly notion of the disciples that the rich are better off before God than the poor, stop and think a minute. Isn’t it true that we tend to think the same way? I look around the room and I see people, none of whom I would consider “rich” by today’s standards (maybe I just don’t know), but nonetheless more materially comfortable and secure than the rich young man, or even kings in the ancient world. And we all say of it, “I am blessed by God,” and we are, that is right. We should recognize that all that we have comes from God, and give thanks to Him for it. But then we look at someone in poverty (which, again, is a relative term… There is a vast difference between a poor person in America today, and a poor person in the ancient world, or even this very moment in many other places), and what do we say, or at least think? They are poor because of their own sin. Drugs. Alcohol. Unwilling to work. Scamming the system. Unwed pregnancy. … Which may be true! As so much of the wisdom in Proverbs teaches, bad choices do lead to bad outcomes, and good choices do lead to good outcomes. Not always, but generally speaking. Then again, our assumption may not be true. Perhaps the person is poor because of sickness, or tragedy, or because someone else has cheated them. We are forever breaking the 8th Commandment with regard to the poor, assuming the worst, assuming we know the cause of the poverty. And notice that we actually start to think about this as, God has blessed me because I’ve lived well according to the Law, and He hasn’t blessed them, because they haven’t. Be careful. God may soon disabuse us of this thinking by leveling us all in economic collapse, or catastrophic war, or disaster. And it is quite possible that you may be thrust into abject poverty precisely for your righteous actions. Remember, the world hates Christ and His Christians. And it will punish you for being faithful. The cost of following Jesus may just be the loss of earthly goods. So repent of such thinking.
Truth be told, as a matter of the First Commandment, Mammon is an idol of the rich and the poor and everyone in between. Think about it. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of wealth, isn’t it true that you actually think most of your problems and inconveniences could be solved with just a little more money? Just a bit. Just enough. I’m not being greedy, here. But it’s never enough! The poor man thinks money will solve his every difficulty. The rich man always needs just a little bit more to be secure. And every last lovin’ one of us who fall somewhere in between believe we’d be better off if we had just a little more. And when we get a little more, thanks be to God, but we need just a little more.
This is a certain indication that Mammon has become your idol. To expose this, Jesus changes, mid-course in our Gospel, how He speaks about the difficulty of entering the Kingdom of God. First He says it will be difficult for the rich. Then He simply says it will be difficult, period. “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!” (v. 24). Because Mammon is an idol to all. For those with wealth, easier for a camel, proverbially the largest animal in Hebrew thought, to go through the eye of a needle, proverbially the smallest opening in Hebrew thought. For those without wealth, or who think they are without wealth? Not any easier. And the disciples get it. Not just difficult… Impossible! Yes, absolutely impossible to be saved. Now we’ve really arrived at the point. Salvation is impossible! … With man. Even the richest. Even the greatest. Even every last lovin’ one of us. Impossible for us by our own merits or resources to enter the Kingdom of God.
But not impossible for God. “For all things are possible with God” (v. 27). See, if you are to be saved, you cannot do it. God must do it. And so He does. Remember, Jesus is the Young Man with all the eternal riches in His possession, very God of very God, the eternal Son of the Father, who gives it all up all the way to the death of the cross, gives it all up FOR US, gives it all up TO US, that we poor, destitute, sinners may have it all, the very Kingdom of God, eternal life and blessedness. Money, silver and gold, can’t buy that. Jesus pays with His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death. So if you’re counting on money to provide for you, protect you, help you in times of trouble, give you joy, and enable you to live a full and fulfilled life, then Friend, you’re betting on the wrong horse. Jesus is the God who does all that. Jesus alone, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit. “And there’s none other God.” If you can’t keep that straight, better to give it all away. Certainly an important spiritual discipline to give a lot of it away, to the poor, to your neighbor, to preach the Gospel. So that you keep money in its place. As a gift of God, but most certainly not God. This is actually why God gives you any wealth in the first place. Not to hoard up for a rainy day, in case the Father forsakes you and you have to count on money to catch you when you fall. No, to give. To help. To be a blessing. To put to work for your neighbor, and for God.
By grace, Peter and the others knew that money doesn’t save. Only Jesus does. He is not speaking pridefully when he says, “See, we have left everything and followed you” (v. 28). It is a statement of fact, and it implies a question… What about us? Salvation is impossible with man, but possible with God. Where do we stand? Now and then? Because the fishing business is severely understaffed since we left the boats, and there isn’t much money in the bank. Are we okay, here?
You’re more than okay, Peter. You have the true riches. Jesus assures Peter and the Apostles that “there is no one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time… and in the age to come,” yes, “eternal life” (vv. 29-30). This means that those who make sacrifices for the sake of the Kingdom, like so many of my brother pastors whom I so admire, who unlike me, left big houses and high paying jobs to go to seminary, spent their savings on school, gave up their luxuries, just to become poor preachers of the Gospel and tend their little part of the flock; like so many of our brothers and sisters throughout history, and throughout the world at this very moment, who suffer persecution, the confiscation of their goods, rejection by their loved ones, imprisonment, beatings, death, simply because they are baptized, or because they are found in a Church, or because they own a Bible; like the saints of old, like these very Apostles, all of whom (with possibly one exception) suffered a martyr’s death; like the prophets who came before them and were rejected by the very people for whom God sent them. They “loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:11).
And like you. Yes, even you. Oh, I know you struggle to forsake your idols. Truth be told, so did Peter and the Apostles. But like them, by grace, you know that money doesn’t save you. Nor does anything else, or anyone else, but your Lord Jesus Christ who loves you, who died for you, who is risen and lives for you. And you do give generously for the good of your neighbor, to aid the poor, and to preach the Gospel. It is the Spirit of the living God who works this in you. And you do suffer (perhaps in much milder form) rejection on the part of those who think you’re silly to believe all this Jesus Christ and Bible stuff, who even think that must mean you are hateful and bigoted and ignorant, and that you should be cancelled. Some of you suffer sharp rejection from your own family members for the sake of Christ, and there is nothing mild about that. I know Christians right here in America who have even lost their livelihoods for their faithfulness to Christ. And while, at the moment, we enjoy some measure of religious freedom in our country, we must know this freedom is fading. Christianity is no longer favored by the state or the culture. We must be prepared to give it all up, our wealth, our possessions, our comfortable lives. And you are. You are prepared. Weakly. Reluctantly. But you are. And you will in the time of trial, God strengthening you and helping you, as He promises He will. For all things are possible with God.
So Jesus’ Promise here is for you, as well. A hundredfold now in this life. And in the age to come eternal life. But what could He possibly mean by the “hundredfold”? If it is taken away, and you die destitute, how has Jesus kept that Promise? Well, what house does He give you a hundredfold but the holy Church, here and throughout the world? And what brothers and sisters and mothers and children times a hundred, but the new Family of God in Christ, consisting of those who hear the Word of God and keep it? And lands? Each new land where the Gospel is preached, a foretaste of that great Day when the whole Land, the whole earth, will belong to Christ and His people, in the New Creation. In other words, it is the very Kingdom of God. Though, note, you don’t receive new fathers a hundredfold. Because you have one Father, even God your heavenly Father. And He is all the Father you need.
Salvation is impossible with man. You can’t purchase it with earthly riches. But then, it isn’t that kind of Kingdom. This Kingdom is given to you as a gift, by grace. Not because of your wealth, or your worthiness, your works, or anything in you. Because of Jesus. Because He died for you. Because He is risen. Rich or poor or in between, whatever wealth or possessions you have here and now are entirely beside the point. Even faced with the loss of all things, having Christ, you have it all. You are rich beyond measure. Money is not your life. Thanks be to God, Christ is. And here He is this morning, to give you all His riches in His Word and Sacrament; in fact, to give you Himself. Satan is a liar. Wealth is but a tool. Jesus Christ is all in all. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.