Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31
All three of the texts appointed for this Sunday involve seeing and being seen.
Job contends that God refuses to be found. God hides, Job cries, and is unwilling to hear his complaint or heed his calls to be seen, heard and acknowledged. Hebrews makes the case that human beings cannot handle being fully seen by God. God’s word will reveal intentions of the heart, thoughts unspoken. Nothing will be hidden from the God who will judge us according not only to actions, but to mere intentions. Hence, humanity’s need for a High Priest, an intercessor, Jesus Christ to make a case on our behalf, plead for mercy, take on the punishment that should be our own. Mark tells the story of the privileged man, the one with power and possessions, wealth and influence, who comes to Jesus wanting an affirmation of all that he is and does, but gets truly seen, truly loved, yet unable to relinquish the image he has of himself for the sake of the one that reflects his creator.
Job wants a face-to-face meeting with God. Hebrews says we can’t handle that kind of direct access to the divine. Jesus is looking the rich man straight in the eye and still he cannot hear and heed the word of the Lord. What does all of this mean for us when we feel that God has abandoned us or we are in the midst of suffering wondering if the Spirit intercedes for us or we find ourselves on our knees in front of Jesus? Do we really want an audience with the Triune God or are we more like the rich man, seeking out God, yet unwilling to let God’s gaze penetrate our worldly masks? The rich man meets Jesus face to face, only to turn and walk in the opposite direction rather than give up his earthly security and status and follow Jesus. Often, we, like the rich man in Mark, have no idea what’s good for us. We say we want eternal life, and yet we cling to that which sucks the life from us and others. We ask God a question, but we don’t really want to hear the answer.
What strikes me the most about this story in Mark is the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ declaration that those with wealth will have a tough time getting into the kingdom of God. The rich man is shocked and grieved. I can understand his response. All his life, his money has equaled access, favor and special consideration. No doubt, he expected Jesus to affirm his piety and obedience to the commandments, give him a pat on the back and send him on his way. The rich man perhaps thinks: I work hard. I got into a top-notch university. I volunteer with my church.So, the rich man kneels before Jesus looking for yet one more seal of approval, one more accolade to add to the long list on his resume. But Jesus, loving him, asks that he stop acquiring – wealth, status, affirmation – and start relinquishing – power, money, privilege – in order to follow the One who doesn’t puff himself up, but pours himself out. This is not what a person who already knows the right answers, who already assumes he is living the right way, wants to hear. No wonder he is shocked and grieved and leaves.
But why don’t the disciples understand that following Jesus means giving up all that formerly held you captive? They will make their case a few verses later, noting all that they left in order to be Jesus’ disciples. Wouldn’t they imagine that this man must also lose his life to save it? Why are they so stunned that wealth is a barrier to discipleship?
The disciples seem to think that if this commandment-following rich man doesn’t have an in with God, who does? Are they equating money with God’s favor? Do they think that riches and blessings are synonymous? Are they still failing to see the Servant Lord right in front of them? I wonder if Jesus’ statement bursts their unvoiced thoughts and expectations that an earthly reward, money, power or status will come through Jesus and this servanthood is a temporary path to a big payoff. I wonder if they, like many of us, secretly operate on the assumption that people get what they deserve.
But Jesus says it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. Jesus turns our way of operating upside down. Jesus flips disciples’ assumptions then and now. Poverty is not a divine judgment, punishment or crime. Wealth is the problem. Without the power and grace of God, wealth could block the path to the kingdom of heaven. But seeing wealth as a problem? That’s not how we operate.
It is telling that the commandments Jesus lists when questioned by the young man are those that dictate how God expects (and even requires) us to treat one another. Don’t behave in ways that injure your fellow human beings. The rich man says, “Right. I got it. I have not violated any of these. Followed them to the letter since my youth.” Worked hard. Got into a prestigious school. Volunteer at the soup kitchen. Check. Check. Check. But Jesus says you still need to sell your possessions and give your money to the poor and follow me. Following the commandments entails not just discreet acts or inaction, but your whole self. Following Jesus requires giving up participating in systems that oppress others, overturning them even when those systems benefit you. Following Jesus means seeing others, really seeing them when they are suffering often as a result of privilege you take for granted. Following Jesus calls us to see others and ourselves in ways we heretofore haven’t or wouldn’t or couldn’t: as members of one body, hurting when any part of the body hurts, rejoicing with whatever part rejoices, inextricably united in Christ.
One wise person I know says, “You are only as happy as your least happy child.” As Christians, we are only as happy, safe, secure as the least happy, safe and secure member of the Body of Christ — or really, of God’s beloved world. That’s an entirely different way of seeing and being seen. It cuts through our thoughts and good intentions, revealing whether we want to be pious or we yearn to be faithful. We need Christ’s intervention and intercession if we are to ever bring such vision to fruition. Thankfully, all things are possible for God. Just wait and see.
- When have you felt truly seen? When have you felt invisible? Have you ever felt as if God was hiding from you or that you were invisible to God?
- Do you ever think about God judging your thoughts and intentions? How does God’s word judge our thoughts and intentions?
- Hebrews instructs us to approach the throne of grace with boldness, and to find mercy and help in times of need. Do you think of prayer in that way? What does it mean to you that Jesus is our great high priest?
- Why do you think Jesus says wealth makes it hard to enter the kingdom of God? What else does Jesus say are obstacles to entering the kingdom?
- The phrase “the first will be last and the last will be first” is found a number of places in the Gospels. Where? What does it mean?
- If we are indeed One Body in Christ, what is required of us when a part of the Body is hurting?
Want to receive Looking into the Lectionary content in your inbox on Mondays? Click here to join our email list!