One of the ironies of the history of Christianity is that it is founded on the life of a person who was kinder to the people on the margins than to the esteemed members of society, and offered a model of being which threatened the status quo, yet much of Christianity is its use as a tool to keep the marginalized in place to maintain a status quo that benefits the esteemed members of society. With this in mind, is faithfulness to Jesus defending established doctrines or continuing his work of challenging the status quo when it is oppressive or marginalizes people?
The reading for this Sunday is Mark 10:17-52. The responsive psalm is Psalm 116.
Here is the message for today.
Turn the World Upside Down (Mark 10:17-52)
A salesman applies for a job with a new toy company and is invited to an interview with Bobby Smith, the owner. He arrives for the interview and is met by a young woman who is about 16 and a man in his 40s. He immediately reaches for the hand of the man and says, “Hi Bobby, I am glad to meet you.” The man responds, “Sorry, I’m David Smith. Bobby here is my daughter, and she has hired me as her accounts manager.”
We live in a time when a high-school drop-out can be one of the richest men in the world, and older people with 4 university degrees are unemployed. Fashion trends are set by poor blacks in Harlem, and wealthy socialites spend bundles of cash to imitate their look. The United States is one of the biggest debtors in the world, and China is the world’s biggest creditor. Europe, the fierce colonizing continent of the 1800s is struggling to survive financially.
And yet the reversals promised in the Magnificat, Mary’s song when she visits her cousin Martha, are barely visible. Jesus in the middle of today’s reading says the first will be last and the last will be first. At a time when oppressive governments are using increasing measures to control resistance to their policies and actions, when laws, guns and financial penalties are used to repress opposition, it can be hard to believe Jesus.
I find encouragement in the stories of his disciples. This is one of many stories that show how ordinary, how like us, they were. Jesus tells them about his impending death, and they are seeking to sit at his right and left hand when he comes to power. They just don’t get it, how like us at times. And yet, in spite of their thick-headedness and resistance to his teaching, they form the beginning of the church which still exists nearly 2000 years later, the church which has touched in one way or another, the whole world. If that could be achieved with them, what can God do with us?
A major failure for most of us is wanting to believe that the way the world is is the way God wants the world to be. It is painful to our egos to see ourselves as part of the transition to something else. Sometimes the what is to be is so challenging to us and others that we become passive-aggressive, saying “yes” to God, but doing “no”.
Our stumbling blocks begin with the first part of today’s reading, the story about the young man teekings eternal life. Jesus asks him to to sell everything he has and give it to the poor. Jesus seems harsh, and this story is enough to cause some people to give up on being Christian. For that young man to be wealthy, he almost certainly had some family wealth to begin with, and he must have worked hard at earning the rest. While he practised the actions of being religious, his heart was with making money. Having wealth is not the issue – putting it first is. A principle of relationships with things is that, if we cannot give them up or away, we do not own them –they own us, and we are not free. And this is why it is easier for a camel to crawl through the eye of a needle than it is for a wealthy person to enter heaven.
The next stumbling block is the assertion by Jesus that no one can make it into heaven by themselves, but only be the power of God. For control freaks like most of us, this is almost as hard to hear. In a culture emphasizing rights, responsibility and accountability, it is hard to rely on generosity, especially the generosity of someone we cannot easily see or hear.
Next is his claim that success for his journey includes his arrest, torture and death – letting go of everything. This was so hard for his followers, they tried to ignore it. It is so hard for many Christians today, they need to focus on the Revelations image of a Christ returning with power instead. This Jesus is easier to accept than the one who dies.
He tells them that the last will be first, and that the one who wishes to rule must be servant of all. This is followed by the story of the healing of Bartimaeus. As a blind person, Bartimaeus would have been almost as last as a person could get, and Jesus serves him.
Imagine a world in which prime ministers make decisions first for the well-being of homeless people and last for investors and corporations. Imagine a world in which people give themselves for the success of others. Imagine a world in which people with no personal ambitions are the ones with power. Imagine a world in which property and wealth consistently take second place to relationships. Now we are imagining a world pointed to by Jesus. Here are some words from a song by Linnea Goode:…
I promised to make stewardship my overall theme for October and November. Today’s focus was and is stewardship of that part of our mission as followers of Jesus to turn the world upside down, beginning with our own minds and hearts, until it more closer reflects the promises made in Isaiah, of a world where there is not hatre, hunger or homelessness, of a world where a person who dies at 100 will be thought of as having died young. May God help us.