Lent 1 – Our need for a Saviour in the age of self-sufficiency

Lent 1 – Our need for a Saviour in the age of self-sufficiency

Our need for a Saviour in the age of self-sufficiency Bible Reading: Mark 10:17-31 Preacher: Rev Phil Swain This week we begin our Lent Worship journey … six Sundays that lead up to Holy Week and the Easter weekend. This year for Lent we will be exploring how Jesus helped people in the bible to peel away the superficial things and address the real and significant issues of the heart. We start this Lent journey in Mark chapter 10 – the story of Jesus and the rich man but that word rich sometimes let us hide from the tug of this passage. What is it about our attachment to our possession, however many or few we have; what is it about the things that make us secure and self-sufficient in this world; that makes it harder to dwell in the kingdom of God? As we enter into this season of Lent we will wonder whether Jesus is calling us into a place of vulnerability and openness as we begin to embrace what it means for Jesus to be our saviour today.

Have you ever had the experience when you could see ahead in your life and see an issue or conflict or decision on the horizon that you knew you could not avoid.   You know what I am talking about?  That you could try and avoid the issue or kick the decision further down the road … but it is a bit like a raft on a river heading towards a waterfall … you have to face the reality that the time is coming or has already come when you have to deal with it?

We started the bible reading today with the phrase, “As Jesus started on his way”.  We are in the point of Mark where Jesus’ focus is shifting from his teaching and ministry in Galilee to starting the journey to Jerusalem and ultimately the cross. 

We know this because twice in the last two chapters (and again in the bible reading Kevin will preach on next week), Jesus tells his disciples that he will be “delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law where he will suffer, condemned and killed.  And three days later he will rise.”  

After three years of ministry, teaching and healing around Galilee, Jesus focus was shifting towards the cross.   Jesus could see the cross on the horizon and knew it was his mission – something that he could not avoid.  Like rushing towards the waterfall, Jesus knew the time had come – they were heading to Jerusalem, heading towards the cross.

We too have started this journey through season of Lent.  It is a bit like we have jumped on the raft and kicked away from the shore and are now caught up in the current.   Easter is coming.  We too are heading towards the cross.

As I prepared for Lent, I read and re-read all the Narrative Lectionary readings for Lent and Easter and one thing that I found is that in many of the readings, Jesus was pushing people to face their issues.  That Jesus was being more intentional in bringing things to point and asking people critical and confronting questions.  It was a bit like as Jesus got closer to Jerusalem and had to face up to the cross, he was helping others to face up to whatever issue or decision was before them.

And I wonder if this is what Jesus is stirring within our community as well.  That Jesus is encouraging us in this time of Lent to consider the big things that are in our lives – the tricky issues, the conflicts that are causing us worry, the problems that we don’t want to address … and maybe call upon Jesus’ help to see these things transformed. 

Is this making sense?  Today’s bible reading is an example of how Jesus pushes people to address the real issue at hand.  This young man comes to Jesus and asks what he has to do to inherit eternal life and in the next moment Jesus is talking to him about possessions.

We are going to dig deeper into this reading in a moment, but I first just wish to ask you what you think?  Do you think that the challenge in this reading is just for the rich young man, or do you think that there is a challenge in this reading that applies to us today?  One of the dangers of this well-known reading is that we have heard a number of sermons that highlight that when Jesus said, “Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor” he was not giving a universal command for all followers of Jesus, but rather a specific challenge to a specific person for a specific reason. 

And so, when we hear this passage, the danger is that our immediate thought is … “this is not about me”.  This does not apply to us today.

But in the spirit of Lent, and of what I suggested earlier – let’s talk about the difficult issue before us today.  Today I want to challenge us about possessions, about our understanding of self-sufficiency and what that means when it comes to the Easter good news of a saviour.  Ready for this?

There is a lot of unpack in our bible reading for today and luckily we have a bible study planned for Wednesday evening to give us more time to do this.  For example – the man’s question to Jesus … I find his choice of words interesting and revealing … “What must I do to inherit eternal life”?  There are things to unpack there … but not this morning.  Come on Wednesday night!

Let’s instead jump to Jesus’ answer.  Not the answer in v19 when Jesus gives the “pre-cross” theological understanding that if he wants eternal life or to be made right with God … then he needs to show his faithfulness to God through adherence to the law.    (Even though there is stuff there to unpack too … Wednesday night).  Let’s jump to verse 21 – Jesus challenging answer to the question.

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Let’s step through this phrase by phrase and see how it might relate to us.

“Jesus looked at him and loved him” – this is the only time in the Gospel of Mark when we are told that Jesus loved someone.  Sure, Jesus shows love to everyone … but here Mark specifically mentions that Jesus loved this man.  I think it is because Mark wanted us to know that this challenge from Jesus was not coming from a place of shaming or frustration or meanness … but love.  Jesus genuinely wanted the best for this man. Jesus wanted him to experience the fullness of life – eternal life – Aeon Zoe. 

Which is also revealed in the next phrase.  There is one thing you lack … or another way of reading the Greek is “you are so close to achieving your goal, you are so close to experiencing the eternal life”.  Note – this challenge which Jesus is about to give is not about what God needs or God demands … it is about the man … and helping the man to achieve what he desires. 

Jesus looked at him and loved him.  One thing you lack…

Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor

The original Greek uses three different words to talk about possessions or wealth in verses 21-23.  And they all give a slightly different insight into what Jesus is trying to say.

Verse 21 – ἔχω “eck-o”.  translated as possessions.  Note that this is not money or wealth but … your stuff.  All the things that you fill your life with … sell your stuff.

To take this a step further – ecko literally means everything that is yours.  Your stuff, your health, your thoughts, your hopes and dreams, … even your family.  Everything that fills your life.    And one article I was reading was suggesting that another way of translating “sell your possession” πωλέω ἔχω (pol-lerr eck-o) is to let go of the things that make you busy. 

I know that this is supposed to be Jesus talking to specific person about a specific challenge, but this is starting to get a little close to home for me.  Jesus is challenging the man not about extreme wealth but about having too much stuff in his life and that this stuff is making him too busy and that these two things … the stuff and the busyness – are the thing that is stopping him experiencing the fullness of life – eternal life. 

Do you want to go on?   The Greek word in verse 22 that refers to wealth is κτῆμα ker-tee-ma … He went away sad, because he had great wealth.  Ker-tee-ma. 

“ker-te-ma” in the Greek literally means property … he went away sad because he had great property portfolio.  But the first century Palestine understanding of property was a bit broader that ours.  For them, it was more than just a piece of land, if you owned property that brought you a lot of stability and piece of mind.  You were not dependant on other people and less impacted by the ups and downs of life.  If you had ker-te-ma, you were self-sufficient and had security in life. 

For those of us who are baby boomers and Gen X … we understand this concept of “ker-te-ma”, don’t we?  Ker-te-ma is what has driven most of our life decisions – we wanted to get a good education so we can get a good job, buy a house or two, build up our investment portfolio and superannuation so that we never have to worry; so we never have to depend on the government or anyone else.  It has been drilled into us from a young age that we needed to be self-sufficient … and so we are driven to have enough Ker-te-ma to feel secure.

The man went away sad, because he had a lot of ker-tee-ma that made him feel self-sufficient and secure.

How are you going with this?  I still have one more Greek word to go.  What me to go on?  (I actually think that this third Greek word brings it all together in a good way)

Verse 23 … Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich (or those who are wealthy) to enter the kingdom of God!”

The Greek word here for rich or wealthy is χρῆμα “kray-mah”.  There is a number of biblical Greek words for money or riches or those who have a lot of money and riches … and Jesus chooses this less common word kray-mah in this context. 

Kray-mah means an abundance of useful things or lots of the things you use.  A more literal translation would be “having everything you need” … or “having more than everything you need”.  Let me plug that back into verse 23.

Verse 23 … Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have everything they need to enter the kingdom of God!”   Or … “How hard it is for those who are self-sufficient to enter the kingdom of God!”

Hmmm.   What do we do with this?  Are we still willing to say that this passage doesn’t say anything to us in our situation?

I really struggled with writing this sermon … partly because there was too much in it (reminder – come to the Wednesday bible study) but also because it really was challenging me.

Do we need to sell all we have and give it to the poor?  No.

Is Jesus saying to me that I have too much stuff in my life?  And that this stuff is making me too busy?  Hmmm.  Yeah.

Is Jesus challenging me this Lent to “let go” of some stuff and make more room for God?  (Which is literally what Lent is supposed to be about).  Yes.

But what was really getting to me was this idea of dependency and self-sufficiency.  The line that kept banging around in my mind was Jesus saying “How hard is it for those who have everything, who are self-sufficient, to enter the kingdom of God”.  Does relying too much on myself and what I have achieved and accumulated mean that it is hard for me to experience the fullness of the kingdom of God?

I said at the beginning that we are on this journey that ends at the cross.  I am going to be here on Good Friday and Easter Sunday declaring the good news of how Jesus is our Saviour, that Jesus brings us life.  But if we have everything we need, if we are feeling secure in life, if we don’t have to depend on anyone but ourselves, if we are self-sufficient … do we really need a saviour?  What do we need Jesus for?

And how are we going to get to the cross when we have all this stuff in the way?

This is challenging stuff … I have a feeling the next 5 weeks are also going to be challenging … and maybe we are like the disciples and want to throw up our hands and say that this is too hard!  But Jesus does give us two words of hope at the end of our reading.

First, all things are possible with God.  If there are barriers between us and the cross, barriers that are stopping us experiencing the fullness of life – God can help.  All things are possible with God.

And then Jesus paints a picture to the disciples that if they do let go of trying to do everything themselves, when they let go of driving themselves to a point of self-sufficiency … then they discover that they have been surrounded by this amazing community where people depend on each other, where people support each other, and where people meet the needs of all who are there.  They discover that when they let go, that being part of this community will feel like they are blessed 100 times more.  That in this community they will experience the abundance of life … this eternal life … right now.