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Pentecost 21 Proper 23    October 14, 2018

Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Psalm 22: 1-15
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

In our opening reading from the book of Job, several months have passed, and Job has continued to suffer. Job wants to plead his case before God. He feels that God would consider the matter carefully and fairly, and he would like to hear God’s response to him.

The tragic thing is that Job cannot find God. No matter where he turns, God is not there. Our psalm describes this situation of feeling abandoned by God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the cry of our Lord as he suffered on the cross.

Job says, “God has made my heart faint. If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face.” He wants to disappear.

All of us go through such times. St. John of the Cross called this the “dark night of the soul.” In such times, God seems very far away. When we are going though one of those dark night experiences, we can recall times when God was so close we could feel God’s presence, but those times seem far away. Nothing we do seems to help. All we can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep trying to follow our Lord, keep praying, and keep hoping.

Our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” Scholars tell us that the word of God in this context means the scriptures and especially the gospels. If we think about what we know of God from the prophets, such as Isaiah and Amos, God’s word is indeed living and active.

At the same time, the Holy One who will be our judge is someone who understands our weakness. He understands what it means to be human. He has compassion on us, and he will give us the grace to get back on the path and persevere on the journey.

In our gospel for today, a rich young man kneels before Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus reviews the commandments with him. The rich young man has followed those all his life. And then Jesus looks deeply into this man’s spirit with great love and sees, as Fred Craddock notes, that this young man’s wealth defines him, and he is not going to be able redefine himself as a follower of Jesus unless he sells everything and gives the money to the poor.  Craddock writes, “Here stands a person whose life has been defined by wealth, and. sadly, he will not accept a new definition of himself.” (Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year, Year B, p.441.)

Privilege is an insidious thing. If we have wealth and privilege, it becomes easy to think that we have all this wealth and all these things because of our own strength. It is so difficult for us to remember that everything that we have is a gift from God. We can think that we have worked hard for all these things, and we have earned them and that is true. But God has given us the gifts and the health and the energy to do that work. all good things from God.

Furthermore, people who have wealth and privilege are treated differently. Other defer to them and wait on them. With all the trappings that go along with wealth and privilege, it is easy to fall into feeling self-important, and it is extremely difficult to keep in mind that we are all totally dependent on God and that we are all frail and fallible human beings.

For this particular individual, Jesus tells him to sell everything, give the money to the poor, and come back and follow him. The man cannot do it. Jesus tells the man to do this because he sees that the wealth is going to prevent this man from trusting completely in God and opening himself to God’s grace in order to follow Jesus and carry out his ministry.

The disciples, who have left everything to follow Jesus, wonder aloud, “Then who can be saved?” This is because they have the belief, which was common at that time, that wealth is a sign of God’s favor. So, they reason, if this very wealthy young man cannot be saved, who can?

Our Lord is telling us that wealth and power can get in the way of answering God’s call and building God’s kingdom. Is Jesus saying that everyone has to sell all they have? No, but he is saying that we, as privileged people compared to all the other folks on this planet, have to be very careful to remember to thank God for all God’s many gifts, to share those gifts with others, and to continually seek and do God’s will.

What are these readings telling us? Sometimes, God may seem far away. That happened to Job and to our Lord, so we are in good company. In such times in our lives, we are called to keep on keeping on, keep asking God for help, stay on the path, and the day will come when God is once again as close as our breath.

The scriptures and the life of our Lord speak to all kinds of situations in our lives. They speak clearly and incisively. Always, however, there is the compassion of our Lord, who has walked the way before us.

We need to give up the things that get in the way between us and our Lord. We need to depend totally on him. Even when we cannot feel his presence, he is with us, and he is helping us to get through those difficult times, and he is giving us the three greatest gifts: faith, hope, and love.   Amen.

 

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