Weekly Bible Study
Preparing for Sunday, October 11, 2015 | Proper 23, Year B | Sign up for Weekly Bible Study emails | The Lectionary Page | Rector's Page | Printer-friendly guides
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They 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.”
Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
This story is one of the best known from the Gospels, perhaps because it speaks so poignantly to us and sometimes unsettles us. In Mark’s version of the story, the person who approaches Jesus is simply “a man.” In Matthew’s version, the person is a “young man,” and in Luke’s version, the person is a “ruler.” And in all of the versions, the person is rich. Our usual reference to “the rich, young ruler” is a conflation of all of the versions.
This story also follows the story of Jesus welcoming little children and teaching that the kingdom of God belongs to “such as these.” This is a marked contrast – helpless and powerless children to whom the kingdom of God already belongs vs. a rich and powerful ruler who wants to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. Interestingly, in the verses which follow our present lesson, Jesus begins teaching the twelve what will happen to him in Jerusalem – he will be “handed over” to authorities who will mock him, spit on him, kill him. It is a frightening picture of a powerless adult. And the next thing we know, James and John are asking Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
This precipitates teaching about the greatest being the one who serves. We are receiving important teaching about the kind of life to which Jesus’ followers are invited.
Ideas for discussing the application of this lesson to our daily lives
1. The passage about the rich man asking what he can do to inherit eternal life immediately follows the passage about Jesus welcoming the little children and saying, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”
Consider the difference between the rich man asking what he can do, and the children who cannot do anything to inherit the Kingdom of God or eternal life, but who are only in a position to receive a free gift. If these represent two different ways of living life, which of these best describes you – the doer who believes he or she must earn what one receives, or the open-armed receiver who simply welcomes what comes his or her way?
Consider the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. Does this prayer convey a certain posture or approach to daily life?
2. “…a man ran up and knelt before Jesus…” Notice how this man approached Jesus. “He ran…” – it seems he approached Jesus with excitement and enthusiasm, and then he knelt.
How do you tend to approach Jesus?
Do you approach Jesus running with excitement and enthusiasm? Or, do you approach Jesus with fear? With joy? Caution? Gratitude? Skepticism?
Do you approach Jesus with a sense of familiarity, as if you were friends? Or, do you approach Jesus with a sense of unworthiness on your part?
What does your way of approaching Jesus say about who Jesus is for you?
3. The man in this story approaches Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Given the same opportunity, other people might want to ask very different kinds of questions.
Try this exercise. Set aside a period of time for silent reflection. After taking a deep breath and closing your eyes, allow yourself to rest and relax in the moment. Then, imagine that Jesus is there with you. Notice first of all – how does it feel to have Jesus there alone with you?
Now, what is the one, most important thing you would like to ask Jesus?
What does Jesus say in response?
Spend some time talking with Jesus in this way.
In the story above, “Jesus, looking at the man, loved him.” How does Jesus look at you, as he speaks with you?
And when you are finished with your conversation, notice how you feel about this encounter with Jesus. The man in the story was “shocked” by Jesus’ response and “walked away grieving.” How do you walk away from your encounter with Jesus?
4. When the man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus answers him with a series of commandments from Scripture, and all but one of them is about what the man must not do. Is there a message here?
5. Notice that the man asks Jesus about what he must do in order to gain something for himself, but Jesus answers with a series of commandments that all have to do with how we are to be in community, in relationship with each other.
What is the relationship between eternal life and communal life? In your own experience, do you sense a connection between your relationship with God and your relationships with the people in your life?
6. A common response to Jesus’ words, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor…then come, and follow me” is a feeling of guilt. A few in history (e.g. St. Francis of Assisi) have heard Jesus saying these words to them, and they have responded by giving away everything they own and devoting themselves to a life of poverty.
But most of us do not respond this way. We might rationalize that Jesus was talking to someone who loved his material possessions more than we do; and since we are not so attached to our material possessions, Jesus would not ask us to give everything away. Our rationalization in that case is that the man in the story was “too attached” to his wealth, but we are different.
Still, many of us realize that our fortunate position in life is owing largely to the fact that we just happened to be born in the right part of the world. It bothers us that most people in the world are poor through no fault of their own. They just had the bad fortune to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their lot in life could have been ours; we were just lucky.
This realization can cause Jesus’ words to sting. We know it is not fair that so many suffer needlessly, and we know we have more than we need. And if God loves all people equally, surely our abundance in this life carries with it certain responsibilities. Many of us, therefore, can feel guilt when we hear Jesus’ words to the rich man.
Consider the following quotation: “…new life in the Kingdom of God does allow for new behavior, new first steps. Maybe folks should not give away all they have at once, but life in the kingdom is about caring and sharing. It should not be business as usual.”
Do you hear God issuing you an invitation through this Gospel story?
What “first steps” might you take toward a new life in the kingdom, a life that will not be “business as usual”?
7. “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” One way of understanding Jesus’ teaching is to say that the way to salvation or eternal life is not so much a way that requires personal effort or good works, as much as it is a way of personal surrender and release of our lives to God.
What do you need to surrender, in order to draw closer to God and life in the kingdom? How does your life need to change, or what new attitude or approach to life will you need to adopt, if you are going to live more fully the life God has created you to live?
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