Return to Sermon Archive
October 15, 2000
by Tony Grant
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Mark, chapter 10 and follow along as I read verses 17-31. "Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches." (RV2:29).
17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
24 And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!
25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
26 And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?
27 And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.
28 Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.
29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's,
30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.
31 But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Let us talk about addiction. When we hear Judy Garland sing, we may find it hard to disentangle the sorrow in her voice from the sorrow that dogged her life - dogged it, in fact, from the very beginning. Born to a mismatched couple of aspiring vaudevillians, Baby Frances Gumm [later known as Judy Garland] came with a desire to please and talent to burn, assets that were quickly recognized and exploited by her fiercely ambitious mother. Ethel Gumm would not stop until her youngest daughter was a star - even if it meant giving the child amphetamines and sleeping pills to keep her going. So it was that well before she was Judy Garland, well before she was walking down the Yellow Brick Road, Baby Gumm was an addict, and no amount of fame or love could change that. (Louis Bayard, "Supernova," Book World, April 16, 2000, 9.)
You can be addicted to all kinds of things. Some people are addicted to lip balm. Are you constantly licking your lips? Do you look for an excuse to buy a bundle of balm? If so, you may be addicted. Time to consider joining "Lip Balm Anonymous." Perhaps your addiction is more conventional: nicotine, drugs, food, sex, videos, gambling. Perhaps you are a confessed chocoholic. Perhaps you are one of an estimated six million with an Internet addiction. Your relationships with your spouse, employer, friends have broken down because your addictive personality has driven you into Internet chat rooms and all manner of cyber-deviancy. An addiction afflicted society, offers an abundance of possibilities. New addictions are popping up every day.
Last year, addiction visited MTV's hit show Real World. The show presents what happens when you put seven young strangers under one roof for four months. What occurs is real, and what recently happened, to everyone's surprise - pushing the ratings to an all-time high - was the real-time alcohol addiction of one of the students, Ruthie Alcaide. In one episode, she falls down drunk in a disco, throws up half-naked in the shower, and has her stomach pumped in an ambulance. Other scenes show her drinking at home, then at a club and later being carried by a bouncer. A promotional spot for the program shows her lashing out at cast members who urged her to check into rehab. One thing is certain; you are not going to confuse this show with a rerun of Gilligan's Island. MTV producers say the show offers valuable lessons on the dark side of alcohol, and one executive observed that "if you saw what was happening to Ruthie, it would be very hard to think that alcoholism or excessive drinking is glorious."
Addiction is a crippling affliction. In our text, Jesus sees it in a rich man who is looking to inherit eternal life.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, and he delivers a message in Mark 10:17-31 that is so startling and discouraging that he frightens one potential convert away and strikes doubt and despair into the hearts of his own disciples.
In verse 17, an apparently eager man places himself in Jesus' path. Kneeling before Jesus in a humble position of respect, this man clearly recognizes both Jesus' goodness and wisdom, and he asks Jesus what he must do to "inherit" the eternal life he desires. The Greek word that is translated "Inherit" is klhrononea which literally means "to receive by lot" or "to have allotted to." It refers to that which we receive by birthright, a gift or a reward. Jewish tradition understood Israel's status as a chosen people as entirely a gift of God. Their attitude toward eternal life was the same. Eternal life was a divinely bestowed gift. Most Israelites thought of immortality in terms of a bodily resurrection from the dead. So this man is not exactly asking the question we would ask about salvation. He is not asking, "What must I do to be saved?" Rather he is asking Jesus, "What must I do so that the resurrection from the dead, eternal life will be my lot. What must I do so that in the day of judgement I will receive life and not death at the hand of God?
In reply, Jesus says, Keep God's law, and he quotes some of the commandments as examples, and the man swiftly insists, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth" (v. 20).
Notice v21, "Jesus, looking at him, loved him." The gospel of Mark especially likes to add touches about Jesus' "seeing" or "looking" as well as articulating the emotions Jesus feels at any given time. Some translations have suggested that Mark's use of the term agapao indicates that Jesus actually reached out and gently laid his hand on this man's shoulder. Whatever the case, we get a sense of Jesus' regard and compassion for this man whose questions seem so sincere.
In light of this empathy, Jesus' command and the man's response seem all the more poignant. Jesus states that the man lacks "one thing," but he actually gives him two commands, two commands about his one addiction. First, he is to go, sell what he has and give it all to the poor. Second, he is to come and follow Jesus - a path that will lead him to the eternal life he seeks. Now all comes crashing down. This man is no longer enthusiastic but "shocked." This man is no longer eager; he is "sorrowful" or "grieving," "for he had many possessions." He judges the cost of eternal life too high and sadly leaves.
Verses 23-31 continue the lesson begun in verse 17, but Jesus' audience has now changed. The seeking man, now revealed as a rich man, has departed from the scene, leaving Jesus and his disciples alone to discuss this matter further. Jesus' statement in verse 23 explicitly connects the two bits of information we now know about the man who had come to him - entering the kingdom of God and possessing an abundance of riches are put in opposition. Implicit in this discussion is the Day of Judgment. On that last day, it will be determined who enters the kingdom of God and thus receives eternal life, and who is turned away from the kingdom toward death. That wealth might prevent entry into this kingdom would have been an astonishing idea - especially since riches were generally assumed to be a sign of God's favor in first century Judaism.
Just in case we have not been adequately shocked the first time, however, the gospel highlights this statement by specifying that the disciples are amazed at such an idea. They are also shocked at how difficult it is to enter the kingdom. Jesus further dramatizes this difficulty by offering the mind-sticking image of the camel's passing through the eye of a needle. Commentators who have tried to soften the impossibility of such a feat by surmising about some actual small, narrow gate through the city walls of Jerusalem, do a disservice both to Jesus' creative imagery and his challenging theology. Jesus' point is made succinctly in verse 27 - it is impossible for men and women to save themselves, whatever their financial state. Only through God is there a possibility for salvation.
Then Peter reminds Jesus that the disciples have already done exactly what Jesus had asked of the rich man - given up everything they had and followed him. In effect, Jesus agrees with Peter by promising that for all the things his disciples have given up for his sake, they will receive back "a hundredfold."
But let us focus on this rich man who has addiction. He is obsessed with the law - and confident that he has kept the commandments against murder, adultery, stealing and fraud - he has an even stronger obsession that Jesus tries to diagnose and treat with his challenge: "Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me" (Mark 10:21). He cannot do it.
But exactly what is his addiction? Let us first say good things about this man. He is a model citizen, a promise keeper and a truth seeker. He does not use his wealth to oppress the poor. He does not squander his money on worldly trinkets or immoral pursuits.
And it is not exactly money that is his addiction. Addictions are usually destructive. On a certain level, they are irrational, they make no sense. But money, in and of itself, is not necessarily destructive, irrational or insane - in fact, a steady cash flow can help to produce good fruits throughout the world. In the first century, most people believed that wealth made possible the performance of religious duties. That is why v. 24 says the disciples are "perplexed" at Jesus' words.
When we find ourselves powerless over drugs or alcohol, it is in our best interest to get rid of the addiction. When showing self-destructive behaviors and impulse-control problems, it is a rational course of action to seek out treatment and support. But for the rich man to sell everything he owns and give to the poor - that is irrational. Is that not what most people think? Totally irrational. And foolish.
How would you respond if called upon to give up your material possessions? You would balk, as any of us would - and for good reason. After all, is it wrong to have money to feed and shelter our families, to put our children or grandchildren through college, to pay our tithes and offerings to the church? Of course not. Having resources does not necessarily mean that our possessions are our masters or that we suffer from a consumerist addiction affliction.
So it is hard to pinpoint money as a necessarily dangerous addictive substance. But if it is not money, what is it? Clearly, something here has the rich man hooked. And Jesus knows what it is. It is not just money; it is love of the things money can buy. Jesus says: Give up those things by which you define your life and follow me. Let me define your life. You see, this rich man defined himself, thought of himself, in terms of his toys. Ask him, "Who are you?" He would reply, "I am the person who owns all this stuff." He was not exactly addicted to money; he was addicted to having lots of stuff. Now I know that the two are related, that if you have lots of money you can have lots of stuff, but the point is that this man has a possession addiction affliction. Jesus challenges the man to make an exchange, to drop what limits him in exchange for what frees him. Jesus offers him a wider, more meaningful life.
But the rich guy is so addicted that he cannot hear what Jesus is saying. Let us return to Ruthie Alcaide of Real World. The addiction in her case was clearly destructive. When she was asked how she felt about going into rehabilitation, she said: "I did it for one reason and one reason only: to find out from the 'experts' if I was an alcoholic or not. After laying it all down on the table and all is said and done, they said I had a 'potential' to be one, but they also said, 'most college students have a potential.' I don't crave alcohol. I enjoy it."
And that is precisely the danger of addictions. They are so enjoyable. That is why it is a struggle to rid ourselves of them.
Now I realize that you may be saying that you are not tempted by the rich man's addiction, because you do not have great possessions. That sort of depends upon your point of view and your expectations.
Christine Scott, wrote an article called "Challenged by our Wealth," for Worldscope Electronic Magazine (www.churchlink.com). She said,
"One thing I discovered before going to Asia was that I am rich. We are "the rich" that the Bible speaks about. One thing I learnt from going, is how rich I really am.
There are many frustrating things about India. But what I hated is the way it makes me feel about myself - I feel opulent. I feel rich and I feel like a foreigner. India doesn't let you forget that you're different and that you're rich. This is evident in every little thing you do. From walking down the street, to trying to buy train tickets. When you're shopping, they hike the prices because they count either on your ignorance or your laziness to just give up, because it's probably only a matter of a dollar anyway. You have to struggle and fight every time to be treated like everyone else, because you cannot hide the fact that you're a foreigner. You can wear their dress and even speak their language, but they never let you forget that you're different. The thing I hate most about all this is the fact that India is right. I am different, and I am rich."
Christine Scott was rich in comparison to the average Indian peasant, and so are we. And we also can be owned by our possessions. Here then is the lesson: The things we own are God's; we are only looking after them. This is a difficult concept, but it is a necessary concept. We must give everything back to God--From our clothes, to our beds, to our cars, to our health and our relationships. We need to give up the belief that we have a right to have these things. We do not have a right to anything. Even our next breath is a gift from God.
When we choose to follow Jesus, we give up our rights. And we give up our addictions.
Let me conclude with this. All our addictions are ultimately derived from a selfish outlook. I have done some work with addicted people. I have always been struck by their selfishness. Everything focuses on them and their ego. And they get all offended and bent out of shape if something of theirs--their rights or their possessions--is infringed upon. Their prime focus in life is to feed my addiction--whatever the addiction might be. It might be alcohol, food, tobacco, sex, drugs, the Internet, pride, ambition, or just possessions. But what they do not see in the midst of their addiction and their selfishness is that they are destroying themselves.
Jesus says, break away from these selfish, destructive addictions. Break away from things that limit you and destroy you, and come and be my disciple, and I will set you free. Amen.
Sources: Beatty, Sally. "A Real Tailspin, in Weekly Episodes." Wall Street Journal, October 14, 1999: B1.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, October 13, 2000