The Season after Pentecost: Proper 23, Year B

Riches distract

  • Job 23:1-9, 16-17
  • Psalm 22:1-15
  • Hebrews 4:12-16
  • Mark 10:17-31

Stewardship is a life lived for God rather than for social and economic advantage. With election season in full force, one of the major issues continues to be about the economy. Tax cuts, tax incentives, or tax increases. Does the middle class exist anymore? Who is the 1%? Who are the other 99%? Money and the acquisition of wealth has been a focus of humankind for millennia. Today’s Gospel gives us pause to challenge our understanding and priorities even in light of today’s challenges of wealth and poverty.

When asked, Jesus tells a rich man that in order to receive eternal life, he must renounce all worldly dependencies and accept, in faith, salvation as a pure gift of God. A total commitment to follow Jesus requires a person to give up his most cherished aspect of his or her life. This is a difficult choice to make, and the rich man can not do what Jesus’ asks. Total self-abandonment to God is the example that Jesus gives. It is not an easy path to follow.

One does not earn eternal life. First we must discard the burden of our success, as seen in the wealth we accumulate. Jesus turns to his disciples and revolutionizes their understanding about wealth. The Jews believed that anyone who had an abundance of God’s blessings must be a good person whom God wished to reward. Much of the Old Testament teaches the general principle that God rewards the righteous and brings grief to the wicked. In fact, a wealthy man might be even better situated spiritually by his ability to devote more time to worship and more money to charity. No wonder that the disciples are astonished to hear that riches may actually impede spiritual growth.

Yet Jesus’ words in 10:27 redirect the disciples’ attention to the divine grace that can enable anyone to enter God’s kingdom. He echoes the lesson about receiving the kingdom as a child: salvation is a gift; whether rich or poor, it is humanly impossible to earn salvation.

Watching the rich young man leave, Peter said, “Look, we have left everything and followed you . . .” (10:28). So what will be our reward? is his unspoken question.

In the Kingdom of God there is no room for any special priority. No one should look for status before God, because many who expect to be first will end up last, and many who expect to be last will find they are counted first with God. To follow Jesus means to choose the way of the cross. “Riches” are not to be found in this world, but in the next.

For reflection:

  • As you read the Gospel passage, imagine that you are one of the characters in the story: the rich man, Jesus, or one of the disciples. What are some of your reactions as the story unfolds? What is unexpected or perplexing here?
  • Jesus mentions six commandments in his reply to the rich man. What do these commandments have in common, and why do you think Jesus referred to these particular commandments?
  • What is it about riches (or any possession, passion or personal accomplishment) that can prevent someone from receiving the kingdom of God? In what ways do your “riches” keep you from following Christ?
  • How well do you think the Church lives up to Jesus’ description of a community rich in property and relationships?
  • How would you describe contemporary cultural attitudes toward wealth and the importance of material possessions? How do these attitudes effect our relationship with God and with others?

About Sharon Ely Pearson

Wife, mom, grandmother; author, educator, consultant; trying to make a difference one action at a time. Christian formation has been my vocation for 40+ years - and counting!
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