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Private Confession: By Appointment

Rich Man Poor Man

October 9, 2021 Pastor: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
October 10, 2021
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Pentecost 20
Rich Man Poor Man

Now, as [Jesus] was making his way to Calvary a man came running to him, and knelt before him and urgently inquired of him, "Good Teacher! What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me Good? No one is Good except God. You know the commandments: do not murder, do not engage in adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother."

And he said, "Teacher! I have diligently kept these from my youth." 21 And Jesus gazing upon him loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing. Go and sell all that you possess and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me. But he was crestfallen by Jesus' prescription and went away filled with sorrow because he was a man of great wealth.
Mark 10:17–22

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Today St. Mark presents us with a man on a mission: a man who wants to learn from the lips of Jesus himself how to inherit eternal life. Don’t we all?

Now any “life coach” can teach you how to live a better life during this brief earthly pilgrimage. How to be more, do more and have more. But only Jesus can teach us how to inherit the glorious life that has no bounds in either quality, quantity or dimension. For in heaven there is no time, no sin, no death and no diminishment of gladness.

Many interpreters of this gospel suspect that there is something less than genuine in the man’s question. They think he is trying to trick Jesus just like the Lord’s adversaries did in the gospels of the last two weeks. They gage his mood from how he addresses the Lord, and how the Lord’s answers him: “why do you call me good?”

Was he posturing hoping to gain some advantage? It’s possible but tricks don’t work with Jesus.

On the other hand we find nothing in the man’s behavior that would indicate anything less than sincerity, the true desire to know how to obtain the greatest gift of all: ongoing glorious life.

Yes he is a man on a mission who intentionally seeks out Jesus, and takes the position of prayer before him. He throws himself down on his knees before the Lord of Glory. The Lord who for 3 years proved himself to be omnipotent, unerring and full of Love like nothing anyone had ever seen – or ever would: until they came to Calvary where the greatest act of love in all creation would take place.

Now this man did not understand the divine plan, or the intricacies of Trinitarian theology, that Jesus is not just a Man but that he is, “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God.” And so he addresses Jesus as: “Good Teacher.”

This is no problem because Jesus is that too. Only his subject matter is so lofty that no one can comprehend it. Except that wherever Jesus speaks the Holy Spirit is in attendance to open the mind, to understand things that are otherwise gibberish.

Scripture itself says: “The natural man does not receive the things fo the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot know them for they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:14)

But Jesus is The Good Teacher who, if he wished, could explain the mysteries of the internet to your dog and he would understand it. But our Lord doesn’t waste time on such trivialities for these are nothing; less than nothing. They are all passing away; but he remains forever, and those who participate in his flesh and blood will also interbit eternal life. (Hebrews 3:14)

Yes, it seems likely that this rich man was a man:

who cared about the things of God;
who knew that no one lives forever,
and who sought a way to rise again.

And no surprise there. The Living God created us as Living people who share a measure of his own life. He breathed into Adam the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” And so to desire life is in our DNA – and death an intruder that entered the world with sin. Talk about Trojan Horses!

And so in today’s epistle the St. Paul warns us not to “become HARDENED by the “deceitful nature of sin.”

Now in answer to the Lord’s question the man shows that his moral rectitude was squeaky clean but the commandments, taken at face value, are not that hard to keep. But it is only when the Lord gives them their spiritual meaning in the Sermon on the Mount, do we understand that outward form is not enough.

But that we must keep God’s commandments with out entire heart, and soul and mind and strength; without hesitation, every time; no matter the cost; and purely out of love for God without any advantage to ourselves.

The Rich Man did not do that. But FWIW neither do poor men. And neither do we. No one does. And so Jesus sends this young man back to school when he says, “there is still one thing you lack.”

“Go and sell all that you possess and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me. But he was crestfallen by Jesus' prescription and went away filled with sorrow because he was a man of great wealth.”

Then St. Mark reports this sad news: that the man got up, and went away, crestfallen. Jesus’s answer had taken the wind out of his sails and now he was dead in the water. But the unspoken part of today’s gospel is the most important part:

Namely that Jesus is the Rich Man who made himself poor, that by his poverty we might become rich from him. (2 Cor 8:9) Rich in faith, in remission of sins, in divine grace, in peace, calm, gladness, discernment, wisdom and power to live the baptismal life. And rich in life. So rich that we will never be able to expend the gift of our baptism: eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

But before we finish we must ask: does Jesus want us to liquidate all we own? To have the garage sale of all garage sales, and to divest ourselves or whatever monies or valuables we might have: and then give those to the poor.

As we said two weeks ago when the Lord prescribed the cutting of or an arm, or leg or eye that led you into sin: the answer was “no” then and it is still “no”. Jesus is making a point here. A very strong point. Nor, contrary to the socialist dreams of the utopian-minded would such a transfer of earthly wealth help anyone.

If all rich men, make all poor men rich, then we end up with the same problem. Moreover then rich men make is impossible for poor men to enter the Kingdom of Heaven because Jesus says: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, that for a rich man to get into heaven.

And so we should see today’s gospel for what it is: the grace of God in action. The Kindness of God in action. The goodness and mercy of God in action, giving his Son into poverty so that we, by him, might become wealthy the treasures of heaven. No moth can eat them. No rust can corrode them. No thief can break in and steal them. And so as the Lord says: store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, and come follow me: to the cross, into the ground, and up through the heavens to the heaven of heavens. To the eternal habitations. Amen.