19th Sunday after Trinity
Mark 10:17-31 Amos 5:6-7; 10-15
What’s it worth? Television programmes like the Antiques Roadshow and Flog It seem to boil down to that question. People bringing in their heirlooms and antiques that they have found almost by chance or even some that they bought with care, want to know ‘what it’s worth’ in money terms, either to buy something else or simply to find out if it’s worth keeping for posterity. The Bible has a lot to say about worth, worthfulness or what is derived from it: worship. In his conversation with the rich young ruler, Jesus doesn’t explicitly talk about worship but it is implicitly included. The young man seems to have everything going for him: he has wealth and an appreciation for good things, and he is polite; some characteristics that will make him attractive to good company. He seems to have listened to Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God and his question sounds sincere: ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ It’s not exactly like ‘What’s it worth?’ – but we can see the underlying issue nonetheless.
Jesus’ answer applies to everyone listening in: the most important commandments are called for; keep these and you’re set up in the right direction. With this, Jesus doesn’t hand it to the young man on a plate. Instead, it looks like he is testing him. And it’s true: the young man is upright enough: he’s kept the commandments quite faithfully. Yet, says Jesus, there is something missing. One thing the man still lacks. When Jesus points it out to him, it is received with sadness; a combination of shock and grief. Selling his possessions and give the money to the poor and then come follow Jesus? Surely, that’s a bit much! But is it?
One of the problems that some people have with money is that it isn’t always easy to give it away. We seem to think that the more we have the more we have to cling onto it, for fear that we won’t have enough. Yet, who is the giver of all good things for our need? And how does money serve us in terms of love, patience, gentleness, kindness; in short, all the fruits of the Spirit that we are called to grow in Christ? Do you know of any person who has taken his or her wealth with them in their grave? And if they did in ancient times literally, like Egyptian kings, what good did it do them? Money has a purpose and I will be the last to say that those who struggle to make ends meet are not good enough; that’s not the point at all. But for those who have more than they actually need, their money comes with an obligation: to make sure that the poor don’t suffer; and that the community is healthy. Giving is a gift in itself; it comes with blessings. How ‘poor’ we are in ourselves if we see the need of others but do nothing to help them if we know that we can. The fictional character Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ novel ‘A Christmas Carol’ is a case in point. When he gave, that’s when he received, and more than he had ever anticipated.
In the Gospel reading Jesus says that it’s very difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God: if he keeps clinging to his wealth for love and security, he will never know the blessings that God wants to give him. Maybe such a person just doesn’t know what money is really worth. Maybe he or she also doesn’t realise the worth of the poor, and, most of all, the worth of the Giver. Ultimately, at the end of a person’s life, what they regret the most is the good they have not done. They may have been very uprighteous in keeping the commandments; in other words, to have kept their nose clean. But, they may have missed out on the most important thing: to receive God’s blessing of his purpose for them in giving out of what they have been given from God in the first place. This can be money but also good deeds. The final question God may ask a person is this: how much do you love me? In other words, what’s it worth to you? Amen.