A common thread running through today's lessons is the idea that our works determine our worth in the eyes of God, as well as whatever rewards or punishments are meted out.
. . . Good works tend to bring the focus on us (on whomever is the “good worker”), on what we have done, and on what we deserve. No wonder we become focused on works over grace. Good works are good, but they can be manipulative, making divisions among those in a particular church community. They shift the primary sight from God and the grace that is too great to be earned. . .
One strategy for emphasizing grace in the midst of today's challenging lessons is not only to focus on the closing remarks of the Hebrews lesson, but also to highlight Jesus' response to the man seeking eternal life. – Carol J. Noren
In her assessment of the preaching task for this Sunday’s readings, Carol Noren offers varied interpretations of Jesus’ words to the man who wants to “inherit eternal life.”
The first is a literal interpretation that could be restated in the following way: You want an assurance of eternal life? You must give away everything you have. Do that, Mr. Rich Man, and eternal life is yours. . . .
The second approach focuses on verse 22 (from Eugene Peterson's The Message): “He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.” . . . It is likely that all of us are holding on too tightly to some things, people and/or institutions, that drain us of life and love, and that distract us from tuning in to the ways of God. Until we let go, an abundant life of grace, here or hereafter, cannot be fully realized.
The third approach to the story is a grace-full approach. Jesus responds to the man with a mix of humor and sarcasm to highlight the absurd idea of our actions earning the love and grace of God. In this version, imagine the man returning to Jesus after a short time of contemplation, to tell Jesus the good news: Jesus, I've decided to sell all I have, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow you. Jesus breaks into a big smile, and replies: You have? Everything? Okay, you are almost there, but first: Go and stop the wind. Bring forth peace in all lands. Feed all of the hungry people. – Carol J. Noren
The readings all underscore the difficulty of split allegiances. Throughout history, we have wanted to have our cake and eat it, too.
Amos denounces the corruption and self-serving that characterized public life in eighth century B.C. Israel. Speaking for the Lord, he warns the wealthy that their abuse of justice for the poor will bring about their ruin. Houses of hewn stone and vineyards may be signs of great wealth, but the prophet declares that, unused and un-enjoyed, they will become signs of God's judgment. – Aaron Couch
In Hebrews 4 the “word of God” is . . . the living speech of God, active in bringing creation into being, active through the prophets, and active still to reveal and judge. Before such a powerful force, humans are defenseless. . . . Rather than being fearful before God's powerful word, Jesus makes us bold to look to God for mercy. – Aaron Couch
Carol J. Noren, a United Methodist pastor, is the Wesley W. Nelson professor of homiletics at North Park Theological Seminary. She served chuches as pastor in Minnesota for twenty years.
Aaron Couch is a co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon.
Homily Service 39, no. 11 (2006): 26-35.