Mark 10:17-31 – The 20th Sunday during Ordinary Time- for October 14, 2012

“…Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life…” (Mark 10:17)

Way way back in college, my roommate Bob and I headed over to a local theater for “The Exorcist.”

This was near the demise of eight-track stereo systems and before the transient dominance of cassette tapes. Large pizzas could be had for three bucks plus change. Nixon schemed in the Oval Office. The world-wide-web described the persistent spider in the ceiling of our rented apartment.

After Bob saw William Friedkin’s 1973 flick, he was scared s**tless. “Seeing” a little girl possessed by the devil rattled him. How scared? How rattled? Later, home from the movie, Bob had to do laundry (you can only put it off for so many months). But the laundry room in our apartment complex required a stroll along a narrow, poorly lighted sidewalk, maybe a hundred yards from our front door. Bob refused to venture into the night by himself. He begged me to accompany him; he lugging a duffle bag of dirty clothes, me alert for a girl with a rotating head.

Nowadays, in our digital world and information age, I’m frightened by a different kind of possession . . .

My possessions.

The writer of the Gospel of Mark, never one to embellish a story, told about a man who asked Jesus (Mark 10:17-31) a blunt question:  How can I inherit eternal life?

Since I am one to embellish stories, I wonder . . . what did he mean by “eternal life?”

Did our out-of-the-blue fellow desire a future seat at/near the right hand of God in heaven?

Was his “eternal life” query about personal contentment?

Had he spoken this way to conquer a fear of tomorrow’s inevitable death or to embrace a new path of life today?

Perhaps his request involved all three of the above. Or maybe you could suggest additional meanings for “eternal life?” Regardless, the man received Jesus’ equally blunt answer . . .

Give up your possessions to the poor!

Follow me!

Scary! Indeed, scary enough to rattle the fellow who approached Jesus. And thus, he skulked away, leaving the story. And yet I see him every day in the mirror. I am possessed by my possessions.

  1. How much do I spend on my pets? Do I own them or do they own me?
  2. I have a mortgage on my house. Am I owned by the bank?
  3. What about that new car with those monthly payments, along with filling its fuel tank and paying for insurance and soon, because my old bike rack from my old car doesn’t fit, I must buy a new carrier to tote my bike around. (Mustn’t I?)
  4. Do I need cable for my viewing pleasure, Peet’s pricy French roast to sip whist I write these swell words or three—count ‘em, three—backpacking tents?
  5. How can I still have an ancient Apple IIc in a cupboard behind the towels and wonder if I should obtain that sweet new iPad?
  6. This list could go on, but I’m no fool, I’ll stop here.

On and on, possessed by possessions . . .

Give ’em up!

Follow me!

Desiderius Erasmus, the 15th Century Roman Catholic priest (Martin Luther’s contemporary) mused, “Nowadays the rage for possession has got to such a pitch that there is nothing in the realm of nature, whether sacred or profane, out of which profit cannot be squeezed.”

I shudder. Erasmus fretted about possessions over 500 years ago. Yikes, what would he say about today!

I am not wealthy. What about you? Of course we’re not. Except, well, what possesses you?

What’s scary is not something that might grab me in the dark of night. What’s scary, always, is me, and—like the eager fellow seeking Jesus—my casual willingness to ask the big questions combined with a naïve hope for an easy answer.

What rattles me is when I recognize that which separates me from God:  my possessions, every single one my choice, possess me.

Though I’m always stumbling around for an easy answer, there isn’t one. Never will be. Truthfully, I’d rather debate the modern controversy of same-gender marriage or the complex theology of the atonement . . . than confront my accumulation of things.

Mark 10:17-31 (along with the parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke) is arguably the most prescient of all of Jesus’ admonitions for his once and future followers. I have no snappy comebacks or rationalizations to make his statements less scary.

Possessed I am. In the dark of night. In the light of day.

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  1. Well you did it again! Took me right out of my comfort zone and put me where I don’t like to be. Perhaps the clincher was the Apple computer. (Have a large iMac barely working, a really old Apple laptop, and a much newer MacBook that lets me zip through blogs and mail and facebook very quickly.) My possessions? I’m afraid they do partially own me and I hate to admit that. As well as having a very small Yorkie that is very well off. I was reading the book “The Quiltmakers Gift” a children’s book. That very well puts the story of the rich young ruler into perspective from an entirely different viewpoint. Most of us do not consider ourselves wealthy. I may not have a lot of the “dirty filthy green stuff” as my dad used to say, but I have children and grandchildren and extended family, a myriad of friends near and far, and so much more. I indeed forget to count my many blessings, and perhaps when I start giving up more and keeping less, I will be beyond blessed. We all have stuff. But then, that raises the question again, that why does God let us choose? All these questions and so many more. You make me think way beyond my comfort zone. Perhaps then, I should say, thank you Larry.

  2. Larry: Good Insight. I especially like the lack of an answer. I certainly do not have one. When I wake in the night in a cold sweat, it is not my relationship to the Master that does it. rather I am terrified that my “stuff” will not last as long as I do. My three score and ten is used up and I have a while to wait and see if I “am strong”. I can add to “stuff” , responsibilities and the health and mental acuity to meet them. They do indeed possess me. The “great” questions that polarize and baffle contemporary folk seem to me “no brainer”s ,but then I was raised on a subsistence farm where life began , not at conception but at “usefulness”.
    Nancy: your post is comfort food for the hungry soul.

    1. Mickey it’s probably a good thing we don’t get answers. Otherwise we would never learn a thing. But sometimes I do wish someone would give me a slight hint. And you know we all need comfort just sometimes we are able to give it at the right time. I am dealing with a death within the family of a church member where life support was taken off yesterday. Puts a whole different perspective on my “stuff” today.

      1. Nancy…

        Good to see you and Mickey “chatting.” Sorry to hear about your church member. Sigh. And those answers . . . aren’t they desirable? However, I’ve usually felt my best writing and preaching happened when I “concluded” with questions rather than answers. Some of the movies I’ve enjoyed the most leave some questions unanswered (Jack Nicholson’s “Chinatown” is an excellent example).

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