Monday, October 8, 2012

20th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 23; Ordinary 28; 14 October 2012

We are in the chapter of Mark’s gospel that makes everybody say “ouch.” In last week’s gospel lesson Jesus took the hardest of hard lines against the practice of divorce and this week he issues a scathing indictment against the acquisition of wealth. Marriage and money – could Jesus have possibly chosen any other two topics designed to incense his hearers? And we can’t just blame the problematic nature of this teaching on Mark either. Matthew tells the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Luke has the parable of the unjust steward and John places the disciple’s common purse in Judas’ hands.

This Sunday’s gospel reading has to be one of the most “weaseled” in the lectionary. Growing up I heard all kinds of excuses preached, the most clever being that “eye of the needle” was actually the name of one of the gates of Jerusalem, a gate that was short enough that one’s camel had to be unloaded before it could pass through. I am sure that I don’t have to tell you readers that this is absolute bunk.

But oh! How this passage, and indeed Jesus’ entire repertoire of teaching about money, makes us squirm.

Jesus hates money. He hates possessions; he sees wealth and material riches as the major obstacle to God’s kingdom. Those who enter the kingdom must do so without their stuff, their income and their investments. The rich young man is not rejected by Jesus; he eliminates himself from becoming a disciple because he won’t part with all he has. In all the New Testament, this episode may be the single most difficult “hard saying” of Jesus. It seems that if taken absolutely literally, not even some of Jesus’ close associates and friends completely obeyed this, since they seem to have had enough money to support the ministry, and we find no accounts of them begging in the streets. On the other hand, Peter and some of the rest had indeed parted with everything, following Jesus minus money and possessions and regular jobs.

…I can be pretty sure that few readers share this attitude. I certainly do not. The church over its history has not. One interpretation allowed for individuals to relinquish all their personal goods and income, but the communities they joined held goods, land, and investments. Another interpretation sets a standard of simple or frugal living.

Be honest. How are you going to “weasel” this passage on Sunday?

Bregman, Lucy, 2009. Homily Service 42:4, 62.

Lucy Bregman, professor of religion at Temple University, is the author of several books most recently Preaching Death: TheTransformation of Christian Funeral Sermons.

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