A 2016 book entitled The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that Will Shape Our Future says that those 12 forces are participles. The age of the static noun is over. Our future is a constant state of becoming, cognifying, sharing, filtering, tracking, questioning and six more participles. Biblically speaking it leaves some things out: sinning, dying, damning, and then there's shocking. Apart from that last one you lose sight of the face of God amidst all the goings-on.
If you aren't shocked by this text, then you're not listening. Jesus isn't God! The earnest young man, Matthew 19 tells us he's young, comes running up to Jesus addressing Him as "Good teacher". Jesus replies, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God." There you go; Jesus says He has no right to be called good because He isn't God. This is the wrong conclusion but among unbelievers and antichristian intellectuals, this is a frequent use of this text. They introduce it with: Jesus never said He was God. In fact, He said the direct opposite.
Shocking! No, it isn't. That unbelief misreads the text is to be expected. The shocking thing is that this has been answered by church fathers 1,600 years ago and Christians still fall for it today. Cyril of Alexandria already in the 400's explains this by having Jesus respond to the young man. "'Why did you apply to Me titles suitable to the supreme nature alone, while you still assume that I am a mere man like youWhy do you then imagine, I a mere manhave the property of the unchangeable nature [of good].' This was the meaning of what Christ spoke" (ACC, NT, III, 283).
If you can get past the false shock of thinking Jesus denies He is God here, you'll get to the real shock that this young man, whom Luke 18 identifies as a ruler, probably of the synagogue, believes in the concept of good enough. Don't you? How many times have I heard someone say in a moment of tragedy, crisis, pain, "I hope I'm good enough to go to heaven." "I think I've been a good enough parent." "That will have to be good enough." The eager, rich, young, ruler is a contradiction as most unbelief is: He believes eternal life is an inheritance but thinks you have to do something to earn it. The shocking thing is that you don't think that his opinion is yours by nature. You think unlike the Pentecost crowd when cut to the quick by the preaching of the law you won't cry out, "What shall we do?" Unlike the Philippian jailer when convicted of your sin, you won't plead, "What must I do to be saved?" Yes you will, you have, you do. And like the man in our text, when you hear the preaching of the 2nd Table of the Law, you think: O that? I've done all that.
Do you see where I'm going? You're not listening if you don't hear yourself in the shocking words of the young man: What must I do to inherit eternal life? And you're really not listening unless you're shocked by Jesus' answer. Jesus doesn't stop with the Commandments you all think you keep. He doesn't stop with you must do this, that, and this. He adds one more. "You must go and you must sell all that you have and you must give it to the poor; then you will have treasure in heaven."
Aww, Jesus can't mean that. The Roman Catholic Church thinks He does. They have what they call the Evangelical Counsels. These are voluntary poverty, chastity, and obedience to religious superiors. They believe these commandments are a step above the 10. These are for the full time religious, priests, monks, and nuns, and some laity. The religious live them in spirit and fact; while the laity do so in spirit (www.faith.org.uk/article/may-june-2005-the-evangelical-counsels-in-the-life-of-the-diocesan-priest). Our text is the Catholic church's Biblical proof for the vow of poverty. By abiding by this and the other 2 Evangelical Counsels, people do works of supererogation, i.e. works above and beyond the plain-Jane 10 commandments. This stores up additional merits in heaven which people who lack enough to go to heaven can use (cyclopedia.lcms.org).
This view, like the view that Jesus is denying He's God, misses the real shocking truth which is if you want to be saved by the law, Jesus will let you try. The earnest young man asks what he must do to go heaven and Jesus recites the 2nd Table of the Law. Done, done, and done says the rich ruler. "Okay," Jesus says, "There's one more thing to do: sell all you own and give it to the poor." Jesus will let you be saved by the law the same way parents use to let their middle schooler smoke. You want to smoke? Here's a pack of cigarettes. Sit down and smoke them all; better yet smoke more than one at a time. That is a surprisingly effective way to get a kid to stop smoking especially if he vomits.
Think you can be good enough to go to heaven? Think you can keep the law enough to please God, to pass His judgment? Then keep on keeping on. Think that you can go heaven based on keeping the 5th commandment? Bear one grudge and you're going to hell. Think that because you're not having an affair or premarital sex, you live the sexually pure and decent life necessary to go to heaven? Think that because everyone jokes about pornography it won't damn you for eternity and bring God's punishment on you today? Think that because you've never told a lie in court that you can think all the bad things you want about your neighbor? Go to hell. Think that because you don't shoplift but only defraud you're okay? Go to hell. Think that as long as you outwardly honor mom and dad you can be rolling your eyes in your heart? Go to hell. If you don't see that by your actions and inactions you're tunneling ever deeper into hell, then keep on digging. That 10%, 20%, that 50% you give only earns you hell. Nothing less than 100% is good enough and that not of your income but of all your assets.
Praise be to God if you've arrived now at the shocking truth that the disciples arrived at in our text. Going to heaven is impossible. In no universe do camels pass through needles' eyes. If no amount of money can purchase heaven, then no matter how much you give won't do it either. And don't think you can hide behind your lack of riches. Don't think Jesus is a 99 percenter talking about the 1%. Jesus doesn't say, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven." O that he had because I could sit back certain He's talking about someone else. No, Jesus says to the disciples, to you and me, "How hard it is for those having possessions to enter into the kingdom of heaven." It's not the rich who can't go to heaven; it's those who have things. Boy do I have things. In fact, I think my things have me. I'm the character in fantasy or science fiction that neglects body and soul to focus on having one thing: In Lord of the Rings it's the ring. In Stephen King's Dark Tower it's a crystal ball. In mythology Narcissus' thing is his own face whose reflection he focuses on till he starves to death. He's in Hades still fixated on his reflection in the river Styx.
"In my flesh dwells no good thing." My flesh is not subject to the Law of God and indeed it can't be. I'm chained to this body of death doomed to ever stare at it even as it decomposes. St. Paul says all this. Then he cries out, "Who shall deliver me from this body of death?" And he answers his own heart-wrenching question: "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory over the Law, sin, and death though our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Cor. 15:57). It takes God in flesh and blood to get a sinful body into heaven. It takes God in Christ suffering and dying to get that done. If going to heaven could be achieved by your doing the law or by giving away all your things, then there would've been no need for God the Son to be sent into human flesh and blood by means of a Virgin. There would've been no need for God to be born under the Law to keep the Law in our place if you could keep it good enough. And why would God the Son need to suffer all the pains of hell, if you could pay of your debt to God by simply giving things away?
There's the rub. Coming to that God-awful place, i.e. the place where God is just awful to you, is a tremendous shock. Luther was brought here when he realized he hated God because God required of him things that were impossible for him to do. This is where the disciples are but if you keep reading the rest of your insert you'll see that they haven't yet travelled as far as the rich young man. He goes away having been crushed by the Law. God is an ogre, a tyrant, just awful for demanding everything from him. Not the disciples. They think they have done everything Jesus required. Not till they deny Him, abandon Him, and hide from Him are they going to see the wrathful, judging, demanding, shocking face of God.
At the height of the young man thinking he can do the law, "Jesus looked at him, and loved him." Jesus then blows his world to pieces telling him he must sell everything and give it away to go to heaven. After the disciples come to the conclusion that nobody can be saved. The insert says, "Jesus looked at them and said." This is the same word for look used to describe the look of love Jesus had for the young man. And this is the word that will be used on Maundy Thursday when the battered, swollen, bloody face of Jesus turns and looks at the thrice denying Peter. This look leads to Peter going and weeping bitter tears of repentance.
Jesus casts that forgiving, winning, loving look at the rich young man and proceeds to bludgeon Him with the law. He so looks on the disciples and points them away from the impossibility of a man saving himself to the fact that God does the impossible. Jesus so looks at the denying Peter to remind him of the prophesy that once he falls he will turn again. The look of love led to the young man leaving Jesus sadden, to the disciples pointing out all they had sacrificed, and to Peter weeping in repentance. What does that look do for you? What? Jesus is looking at me with love? Shocking, isn't it? Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost (20181014); Mark 10:17-30