Text: Mark 13:17-21
The story in today’s reading is soooooo true…
And we HATE IT!
Mark’s account of this story is a bit different than that of his counterparts. For one thing, there is no indication in Mark that the individual in the story is young or a ruler. (Rich, young, ruler as it’s often called in the other Gospels). Mark’s account goes something like this:
Preface: Jesus is in a hurry, inconspicuous, and confusing – at best – in this gospel. To find yourself amazed, or scared, or lost is to fit in perfectly, sitting somewhere between Peter and the person in today’s story.
After a record number of exorcisms and healings, parables and predictions, the word must be out. Regardless of Jesus’ effort at “stay in the closet,” hiding his true identity, “who he was” seemed to have leaked pretty obvious signs (as it always does), regardless of how many times someone outed him and he responded with some form of “shhh.”
The person in this story, too, had figured it out, calling him “good,” a word pretty much exclusively used to talk about God –maybe like our word “Holy” or something.
And, so, action:
Jesus, sandals, smelly tunic probably, on a journey.
This wealthy person comes running up, in Birkenstocks or Rainbows smelling lovely. “HOLY ONE!” Like catching the Dalai Lama at the grocery store. “Heeeey, Holy one, good teacher! What must I do? What must I do to inherit eternal life? What? What do I need to do?”
Jesus, still trying to play it off, “Why do you call me ‘Holy’? Only God is holy.” Okay, whatever, he answers anyway. “You know what you must do. That’s no secret. Follow the rules. No killing. No adultery. No stealing. No lying. No cheating. Love your parents.”
Birkenstocks says, “Yeah, I’ve done all that, since I was a kid.”
Jesus: (sincere head nod) “Yeah, you have.” Pausing probably, looking at him, “loving him,” it says. Jesus replies, “But you’re missing something. Afterall, you did RUN up to me. Go, sell what you have (INCLUDING those really awesome arch supportive sandals) and give the money to the poor. And then come.
Come with me. Come with us.”
Did you know, this is the only story in the gospels where we have the call of Jesus being refused?
This story is soooo true.
It’s like this story is always happening: to others, to us, at different points in our lives. There’s almost something cyclical, universal about it.
We see it everywhere, right?
Madonna turns to Kabbalah
Bono goes to Africa
Elizabeth, in Eat Pray Love, goes to India
We go to yoga, or meditation groups, or hand build boats, or go to the park.
Our question sounds a little different, mind you. Eternal life for these early Jewish communities was their ultimate, their happiness, their life spent well, their peace that passed all understanding. Our phrasing, today, I think is a bit different. What must I do to be happy? To rest easy? To live my life well? To be satisfied? To be whole? How do I get that? What must I do?
We carry this question, and questions like this, to our respective places of faith and spirituality. And, in return, we get these really self-revealing, shocking moments. Like someone points out our Birkenstocks or holds a mirror up to our life. Showing us something. Usually showing something we really, really love.
The details, grammatically speaking from the Greek, are quite fascinating in this conversation between the wealthy person and Jesus. A couple worth noting, I think, (besides, of course, all the typical editorial additions: fyi, the Anchor Bible commentary will ruin your life).
First, is that the two Greek subjects going on in this passage “klemata,” which we see translated here as “very wealthy,” literally means property; and then “kremata,” which we see as “riches,” literally means “things one possesses.” It is much more general. Which is quite important when Jesus later goes on referring to a “rich” person, which is, generally speaking, “the person who possesses things.”
(By the way, this is my section for the Bible nerds; cooler people, hold tight.)
And then, secondly, when Jesus says, “You lack one thing,” the earliest manuscripts have a dative tense rather than an accusative one. Which might sound more like: “You, for yourself, lack one thing.” “You lack one thing for yourself.” This very, very slight – two letters, actually – difference, for me deemphasizes what it is exactly Jesus is saying ought to happen.
In other words, “sell your stuff, give your money to the poor, do the right thing, give alms,” as every teacher is teaching, is correct. But, do that for you! Get rid of this stuff for you! “You lack one thing, for yourself.”
I shared with the lectionary group this week part of how I personally approach this story. NOT because I think it’s all about me, but because clearly we all bring our own selves and lessons and past experiences to anything really, especially when interpretation is involved.
I shared that I have this very early memory of lining up my money, my hard earned cash from all those holiday cards and keeping my portion of the bathroom cleaned. And I’d line them up like Monopoly money, banker-style. True, my 20s pile wasn’t exactly anything to write home about, but I was so proud. “Mom, Dad, LOOK! Look at all my money!” And they’d cheer or say “Good job Laura. Way to save.” Yes! Money! Praise from mom and dad.
And then when it’d come time to spend my money, on that pink and purple pair of LA Gear sneakers – yes, of course the ones that lit up – I didn’t want to! Even though I DEFINITELY wanted the sneakers, I didn’t want to be without the money. I had learned that the money – the “having of the money” – was best! That was the highest form of financial good!”
Oh! The power of our early learning!
If indeed money is a god, and a dangerous one at that, for me it is the “saving of money” in MY life, that can too often dominate me, control me, grip me. This, of course, is not the only thing: there have been different things for the changing seasons – different “norths,” if you will – that my life has been oriented toward; people even. Then, again, our lives are always about something: attachment to detachment and, again, attachment. There have always been things, for me, that so greatly have informed my decisions that I, too, am often left shocked and grieving.
But, in our individual and deeply complex relationships, money aside, it is security and safety (money is so often its embodiment) that minimizes the level of devastation when tragedy comes – because it does come, buffering our lives and pillowing our edges to protect from our greatest fear. Fear greater than even the fear of dying, as I recently heard on the radio, from a study done on retirees, is the fear of no longer having it: money, security/safety; the fear of running out, the fear of being without.
But we do know nothing is ever exactly what it seems, especially not with Jesus. The pieces of paper with green stamping on them that I so carefully lined up to show my parents, are, in themselves, paper; able to be ripped and shredded, used for fire. It’s rather this illusion, this fear of being without them, that controls the rich, generally speaking.
This story, I think, as so often told, is not, in fact, about greed and money and Jesus asking everyone to be poor. It’s about fear and Jesus asking everyone to do the one thing they lack for themselves: To let go. To be let go. To release and to be released, from whatever “stuff” one possesses. To unshackle and then to do something different, to take a risk, to be without, to come and join in. To follow.
Almost as much time as a I spent reading textual criticism on this story, I spent daydreaming about what would have happened if Birkenstocks had gone; if that fie-star-only, four-donkey-garage self had conquered the fear and let go of what was so dominating, and had met Jesus and Peter and Mary and the rest of the gang at the next bus stop. What then? What then would his life have been like?
Though I’m only guessing here, we do know it might have looked something like this:
watching that blind guy in Jericho throw his cloak off and suddenly be able to see;
constantly trying to steer clear of that angry synagogue mob;
weathering some shoddy sleeping conditions in Bethany;
going on a Jesus-assigned scavenger hunt for a colt;
listening to the Hosanna choir; watching Jesus kick people out of the temple, and then get kicked out the temple himself;
learning that anything asked for will be given;
constantly being hit with agricultural stories that while interesting at first never seem to be about agriculture;
watching Jesus win a “Yo mama,” or rather “Yo Caesar,” argument over taxes;
finding out that the widow who gave two copper coins gave more than everybody else;
disputing with your bunk mates about what the heck any of this even means;
getting frustrated when this woman comes and busts open Este Lauder all over Jesus’ feet – admittedly it’s a sensitive topic;
getting to sit down to a simple meal every night with this new found family – one time in particular – at dinner and hearing Jesus say “before I go, I want you to remember this, remember this meal we are sharing, remember me in this;
eventually having to flee death;
witnessing the utter injustice of a close teacher, and mentor, and friend be crucified;
pow-wowing back in a locked room; deeply, gut-wrenchingly grieving another loss;
having to let go, again, release again, unshackle again;
learning to find new life and finding new life again…
It might have looked something like that.
This story is sooo true…
“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God?”