10th October 2021, proper 23
Amos 5:6-7,10-15, https://bible.oremus.org/?ql=500800588, Psalm 90:12-17, https://bible.oremus.org/?ql=500800660, Hebrews 4:12-16, https://bible.oremus.org/?ql=500800726, Mark 10:17-31, https://bible.oremus.org/?ql=500800772
How true! God’s word is sharper than a two edge sword! It can probe that join between the bone and flesh, it can pierce the gap between thought and deed, it can lay open the difference between dream and reality. God’s word strikes at the heart of the matter. And so it is when the rich man comes to a Jesus for advise.
This man wants to inherit eternal life – which almost sounds as if he wants it to be something he can receive as of right rather than by effort. In response to Jesus’s questioning, he confirms he has lived his life according to the law, he has not done anything that steps over the line. Yet when Jesus questions him about his wealth, it seems that his love for his wealth is more than his love for his neighbour.
Curiously Jesus doesn’t ask if he has kept the first of the Ten Commandments, those that relate to our relationship with God.
And the man goes away disappointed, with no assurance of gaining eternal life. Jesus comments how hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God: for that is to have eternal life. And I think it is not just wealth here that is meant, but also power and privilege for the three are interlinked. Those with privilege are more likely to acquire wealth and power. Those with wealth are more likely to acquire power and privilege. Those with power to gain wealth and privilege. It is as if there is a set of rules that makes this so. We have heard so much in the news about people with money who can access government ministers to push their causes; of multinationals who can use their power to promote use of products that harm the planet; of people who can hide their wealth to avoid paying taxes; of wealthy nations who can privilege vaccines for their citizens over those of poorer nations; of economic systems where the top 1% holds 25% of all wealth (that’s in the UK) or 46% of the wealth when measured globally; of the longer life span that accrues to those who live in wealthier areas; or of privileged pupils who could access better education during the covid lockdown.
From what we read in the gospels, the kingdom of God is radically different from any other kingdom, any other world-order, or any other culture. In God’s kingdom life is lived according to God’s ways, God’s logic, God’s culture. And even if squeezing a camel through the eye of needle seems impossible, for God, says Jesus, anything is possible.
Why is it that the rich man could have so strictly followed all the rules, and yet been unable to share his wealth? Was it – and indeed is it – that wealth insulates us from the problems that other people face, that it blinkers our eyes so we don’t see the poverty that is out there, that it prevents us from understanding how hard life can be without power or privilege?
Things were no different in the 8th century BCE in the days of Amos. Amos lambasted the people with the message God gave him. “Seek the Lord and live! … hate evil and love God, establish justice.” Amos warns that those who gained their wealth through taxing the poor and trampling on them, who deny the truth and scorn justice, who take bribes, rubbish the righteous, and push the needy aside. They will get their comeuppance and will not live in the grand houses they have built, nor drink the wines from their vineyards.
I wonder what it would look like today to hate evil and love God and to establish justice?
Would it be in truthful journalism that exposes tax avoidance and wealth havens? Would it be in demanding the insulating of homes so that those least able to pay rising fuel bills can keep warm? Would it be in demanding government policies that would actually reduce carbon emissions? Would it be in ensuring equal access across the globe to covid vaccines? Would it be in avoiding goods produced by cheap labour? Would it be in ensuring we don’t buy products which involve the destruction of rainforests and mangroves? Would it be in curbing our carbon footprint to ensure a safe future for our children?
If all this sounds impossible, let’s ask God to help us. If giving up our wealth, our power, our privilege seems too hard, let’s ask God for help. If following Jesus seems too demanding, let’s ask God for help. For all things are possible for God.
May God prosper the work of our hands – not to garner wealth, but to build God’s kingdom.