Grace and peace from the Mystery in whom we live and move and have our being.
Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”Mark 10:17-31
There is so much to talk about in this passage. So many ways to go. And so, I think I’ll go in the direction of all of them and turn this more into a ‘random thoughts’ Touchpoint rather than a singular focus.
Random Thought 1
Random thought one: “Go sell all you have and give it to the poor.” This is one of those Bible passages that proves that no one is truly a biblical literalist and fundamentalist. Just an observation.
Random Thought 2
Random thought two: Let’s talk about this word ‘eternal’ or ‘eternal life.’ It’s not about the afterlife. We have so messed up this term from the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. Eternal life is not some future event or time. It is here and now. It is experienced here and now. It is life lived in those things that are eternal: love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. These are the things that last. These are the things that are eternal. So eternal life is life lived in these things.
A second thing about eternal life is that it is not static. Eternal life is not like a never-ending Spring or Summer. It is Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Followed by another Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. It is life that is constantly being renewed, restored, born again. That’s what makes it eternal. It is constantly growing and changing. It’s not one long same ol’, same ol’.
Richard Rohr put it well, when he wrote:
Random Thought 3
Anyway, on to the passage itself and random thought three:
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
That’s a weird question isn’t it? “What must I do to inherit?” Nothing. You inherit it. It’s a gift. It’s something that is given to you. You didn’t do anything and you don’t have to do anything. An inheritance is something that someone else worked for and then they leave it to you, give it to you.
An oxymoron posing as a question
It’s an oxymoron posing as a question.
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer is nothing. But the nothing isn’t nothing. It is rather something. It is the stumbling block. Because it isn’t only that we must do nothing to inherit eternal life, it’s that we must become nothing. That I think is the point of telling the rich man to go and sell all he has and give it to the poor. It is this idea that there is nothing we can claim for ourselves, to ourselves, by ourselves.
Just as it is impossible for a large animal to fit through a small opening, it is impossible for the wealthy to fit into the kingdom of God because you become wealthy by keeping, holding onto, possessing. That’s what it means to be wealthy – you hold on to more! But the Kingdom of God is not a possession. It’s not something we can hold on to. It holds on to us. It is bigger than us. Perhaps that is why Jesus says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is AT hand.” Rather than, “The Kingdom of Heaven is IN your hand.”
One cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, one cannot live in the Kingdom of God, one cannot experience eternal life with a closed hand, a clenching fist. It is all gift. And can only be received as such.
The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.Mark 10:22
You see, we no more possess the Kingdom of Heaven, than we do the sun, the moon, or the stars. We no more possess ‘eternal life’ than we do this thing called life. If we can’t possess this life, we certainly can’t possess eternal life.
What must I do to experience eternal life?
Perhaps a better way to hear the question is to hear it as, “What must I do to experience eternal life?” I think that gets at the heart of Jesus’ answer. And the answer is still the same.
“Hold on to nothing.”
And perhaps that’s not a bad way to speak of the kingdom. Perhaps it would be best to say, the Kingdom of God is first and foremost… a kingdom of nothing. NOTHING. We enter with nothing; we hold on to nothing; we possess nothing. All is a gift.
And that is EVERYTHING!!!
And maybe that’s why my faith heroes these days are those who have been reduced to nothing, bottomed out as it were; those who have been reduced to nothing through addiction or illness or life circumstances, whether it be in their own personhood or in the lives of those they love. These are the very people Jesus refers to in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Blessed are the poor… those who mourn…the meek… the persecuted…”
This is where the kingdom is found. This is where it is experienced. This is what the kingdom of God looks like. These are the last who shall be first in the Kingdom of God…well, along with prostitutes and tax collectors. But I think you get the picture.
Random Thought 4
Random thought four: “With God all things are possible.”
This is quite possibly the most bastardized quote in the Bible!
We take a statement about it being impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, and turn it into a motivational poster or bumper sticker to inspire us to become rich or famous or powerful, to HOLD ON to our dreams, when the whole point of the passage is to LET GO of everything.
This is pure lunacy. The exact opposite of what Jesus is saying. It is ridiculous to take this statement as it appears in this passage, “With God all things are possible” and turn it into a saying that will help ME achieve SOMETHING, be SOMETHING, accomplish SOMETHING.
The SOMETHING is the root of the problem. The rich man wants to do SOMETHING more, be SOMETHING more, accomplish SOMETHING more. He already is SOMETHING. He is rich. He is SOMEBODY by the world’s standards. But he wants more.
And the solution to his problem, if we can use that language, is not MORE, it’s not even LESS, it’s NOTHING. NOTHING. NOTHING at all!
And let’s face it, that is impossible for us. Impossible for us to become nothing on our own. Because that involves our death: death to self, possessions, free will; death to being the subject and the verb of our life and existence.
But let me clear about “something” else, or should I say “nothing” else.
Deprivation is not the point
Deprivation is not the point of this passage. Neither is it the point of the kingdom. The point of the kingdom is in the caring and the sharing of all that we are and all that we have. The point is to live in the reality that all is a gift…and NOTHING is a possession. Or should I say, NOTHING is the only possession.
This passage strikes at the heart of our social presuppositions about wealth, prosperity, and individualism, and there is no escape. We live in a society that is built on an economic system. This is the paradigm, the system, the structure that is worshiped and glorified above all else. You can criticize many things in our society, but don’t go after our economic system. It is the one thing we are in bondage to and cannot free ourselves. Heck, last week’s passage on divorce was a cakewalk compared to this passage.
Because above all, having SOMETHING in this society means being SOMEBODY. If we are honest about ourselves, at best we will walk away sad from this passage like the rich man, but most likely we will run away as fast as we can. And probably into the arms of Joel Osteen and the prosperity gospel who will tame the text and make it more to our liking.
We really are no different than the seagulls in Finding Nemo, flying around crying “MINE, MINE, MINE!”
So let me just confess to you and acknowledge straight up: I am in bondage to my possessions, my capitalistic, free enterprise culture. And I cannot free myself. I cannot empty myself to enter the kingdom of God. It is impossible for me.
Random Thought 5
Not so random thought five:
But here is the ‘good news’: if we won’t empty ourselves to enter the kingdom of God, the kingdom of God will empty itself to enter us. Nowhere is this seen more vividly than on the cross, where Jesus empties himself, gives himself over completely, is stripped and naked.
Jesus, on the cross, does not hold on to himself but rather gives himself, empties himself, dispossesses himself, to enter into our world of pain and suffering and brokenness.
And how do we respond? We gather around the cross like roman soldiers and cast lots to see who will possess his clothes. And turn the cross into a profit making event for us because, after all, “All things are possible with God.” The contrast, the irony, the surrealness of it all is breathtaking: the world’s ways and the kingdom’s ways, captured in a single frame, one moment in time.
So, since we won’t empty ourselves to enter the kingdom of God, the kingdom of God will empty itself to enter us.
Isn’t that what happens in this meal? Judas refuses to enter the kingdom but rather betrays it. Peter refuses to enter the kingdom but rather denies it. And the rest – they would rather run away from and abandon the kingdom rather than enter it.
What does Jesus do?
And what does Jesus do? He breaks himself down, gives himself over and enters their lives, their beings, their worlds, so they might be one.
And so, if we won’t empty ourselves to enter the kingdom of God… the kingdom of God will empty itself to enter us.
You know, it’s amazing what’s possible for God.
Wednesday Respite is a 30-min contemplative service of scripture, prayer, music and a Spirited Touchpoint by Spirit in the Desert faith mentor, Rev. “Bro. Jim” Hanson.
Touchpoint is a reflection on where God’s story touches our life story. It is a short homily based on a biblical story of people in the Old and New Testaments and their relationship with God. Our spiritual ancestors’ experience of God’s grace connects with our lives in the present and our relationship with the Divine. Previous Touchpoints are available as PDFs or on SoundCloud.