This summer, I’m playing with the book of Mark every week! Check out my original post about why I’m studying Mark, Mark 1:Authority, Mark 2: Avocado Toast, Mark 3: So You’ve Left Fundamentalism…, Mark 4: Our Patch of Earth, Mark 5: What is Your Name?, Mark 6: WWJD! What Could Go Wrong?, Mark 7: Talking Back to God, Mark 8: The Banality of Goodness, and Mark 9: Before You Pluck Out That Eye…
Jesus, looking at him,
and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own,
and give the money to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven;
then come, follow me.”
When he heard this, he was shocked
and went away grieving,
for he had many possessions.
The disciples were greatly astounded and said to one another,
“Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said,
“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God;
for God all things are possible.”
“Christianity entails decision”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer –
Opening to his first public sermon
Mark 10 is about giving up everything that is valuable to you to go to places you don’t recognize, to follow someone you barely know, so that you can have things of value in an “age to come” that no one can prove will actually happen.
Mark 10 is for the people who wrinkle up their noses and say “no, thanks.”
So pretty much, Mark 10 is for us all.
This rich young ruler is easy to love, easy to identify with, and easy to judge. He is so enthusiastic, flinging himself on the ground, begging Jesus for answers. And he’s so crushed when Jesus tells him perfection doesn’t just mean holiness in regular life, but sacrificing regular life itself. So the rich man said no, and fled the scene, heartbroken.
Peter, at least, sure thinks he’s easy to judge. While the rich man walks away, Peter leans in to remind Jesus that he, Peter, gave it all up at the moment of decision. He didn’t walk away. He gave all he had to the poor to follow Jesus. He is beyond reproach, unlike this rich man who walked away at the fork in the road.
A few months later, at a campfire in the middle a night during Passover, Peter lies and panics and then, finally, flees the scene. And it’s a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, who doesn’t leave at all, but stays for the final sacred deed of burying Jesus’ body.
“Unlike this rich guy, I gave up all my money to follow you,” Peter says to Jesus in Mark 10.
But I don’t think money was the Big Thing that Peter had to give up.
That hard split in the road happened at a different moment, and he had a different choice. Peter thought that he had already made that choice when he quit his job to go on the road with Jesus. But Peter’s moment of decision came around a campfire, when someone asked him if he knew that Rabbi arrested for treason. And Peter said no. And fled the scene.
Christianity entails decision.
Someone else’s decision won’t be yours. Your decision may look easy to the people around you. But whatever your fork in the road is, it will cut right down the center of you, to values you’ve been gently cherishing for years and years.
And in whatever moment of decision we’re frozen in, Jesus puts out his hand and says,
“Give it all up, dear. Take the lowest seat at the table. Release your grip on your own image of yourself. Come with me where you are unknown, unseen. Come to where the meek and the powerless and the poor in spirit and the poor in pocketbook are gathered. Come on, honey. Let’s go.”
This is a hard teaching, the disciples whisper to each other. Who can accept it?
So Peter turns away, just like I turn away, just like the rich young ruler turns away.
But let’s shift our eyes from Peter, fumbling and lying at the campfire. Let’s look away from this rich young man, his heart breaking as he walks away.
Let’s look at Jesus.
What’s remarkable about Jesus is that he doesn’t seem a bit surprised that the young man turns away. Not only unsurprised, but unfazed, unblinking. Not only unfazed, but judgment free.
Jesus says “well, of course he couldn’t take the difficult path. Of course. I didn’t expect him to. He didn’t take the difficult path because it’s impossible, loves.”
There’s no judgment on this rich young ruler for not taking the difficult path, because the difficult path is not just difficult. According to Jesus, it’s impossible.
When we come up against our fork in the road between Jesus’ upside down values and our own gently cherished identity, it’s flat impossible to choose Jesus.
The disciples can’t believe it either.
So who can even be saved? they mutter to each other. Are you kidding, Jesus? This is a hard teaching! Who can accept it?
“For mortals it is impossible,” Jesus tells them, “but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
Not impossible for God. Not impossible with Jesus.
Because here is what this blessed child of God didn’t see when he was too weak to give up what he was clutching in his scared young hands.
“Jesus looked on him and loved him.”
I wish I could rewind time and go back and shake this child’s shoulders and say “dearest. Look. Jesus is about to say a hard thing to you, but before he opens his mouth to say it – look at his eyes. Look up from the ground, kid. Hey, baby child, hey, you dear, sweet thing, you terrified, well-meaning, slightly proud but mostly eager child – before you walk away because you have suddenly realized that the cost is too much, before you scuff your feet in the dirt and turn back because you are so, so sad that you can’t give up everything and so, so sad that you aren’t who you thought you were – sweetheart, look at Jesus. Look at him. He is overwhelmed with how much he LOVES. YOU. Right there, knowing what you’re about to say, knowing your heart, knowing your weakness and your eagerness – knowing all of that entirely – He. Loves. You. Don’t look down!”
Have you ever been looked at by someone like this before? Someone who knows that you are about to make a terrible choice, but they’re smiling a little bit at you because no matter how you fail or succeed in that moment – they love you?
When we see how much Jesus loves us, despite our worst choices, what is impossible with mortals becomes possible through God.
This isn’t a “Jesus Love Me This I Know” kind of love. This isn’t “Jesus Loves Me” from tracts that tell us that Jesus loves us SO MUCH that he’s gonna send us to hell if we don’t listen to him. This isn’t “Jesus Loves You” from the street preacher who doesn’t seem to see how difficult it is to reconcile the deep, deep love of Jesus with his basement paintings of bodies burning in some kind of hellfire on his posterboard. This love isn’t cheap love.
This is Jesus loving a man, right in the moment before the man decided to walk away from him.
This is Jesus knowing that our capacity for pride and error and judgment and overstepping and shame and fear is unlimited, and despite it all, his love for us unchanging, unmoving, unwavering.
Only God can see us completely, see us even and especially in the moment of failure, and love us completely.
Only God can watch us choose to turn back from the hard decision, and love us anyway.
That’s the strong love that can bend a bow of bronze and move us down an impossible path.
You can’t reason or self-discipline or fight your way forward.
Christianity entails a decision, yes. But without catching a glimpse of Jesus’ face when he looks at us, and loves us, that decision is an impossible one.
In that moment of decision, when you feel the anxiety or fear or self-hatred start to bubble up, take a beat. Take a breath before you try to set out on an impossible road with the sheer force of your own will.
Take a breath, and look at Jesus.
Know that you are loved, whether you take a step on this road or not.
And knowing that makes all sorts of impossible things come true.