Invitation to New Life

Mark 10:17-31

by Taylor Poindexter, Seminarian

I have been invited over and over to leave my perfectionistic tendencies behind. This past summer when I did a hospital chaplaincy internship, I was invited yet again to let go of what my supervisor thought was holding me back. To let go of the to-do list, to let go of the high expectations. And I wondered, but how will it get done if I don’t do it in this way? What does life look like if not like this? This is not the first or last time that faithful, caring people will invite me to loose the bonds that hold me, and invite me to live in a different way. One of you may be the next to remind me that my to-do list and I will not be the ones to bring forth the kingdom of God. But it hurts, it literally pains me, to let go of a piece of my identity, of a part of my self-worth. The growing pains are not over, I am afraid.

When Jesus answers the anxious rich man’s question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life? – What must I do to draw near to you, what must I do to have what I most deeply desire?” Jesus loves him, I imagine the corners of his eyes crinkling with understanding. Jesus knows human yearning, desiring, and seeking God. He knows forsakenness, he knows confusion. So he says “Follow the commandments, you know them…” and recites them from memory. And with love for this human predicament, he tells the man to let go of the thing that is holding him back. He’s got the commandments, he’s got the law and faithfulness and desire. But Jesus lovingly knows there is more for him. There is deep, abiding presence with God, there is eternal life, there is a kingdom to which he is invited. And the man wonders, and hangs his head, knowing he is not ready to give up that aspect of his identity that keeps him from living the faithful life that Jesus offers at the time. Jesus knew it wouldn’t be easy for this man to follow him. His investments were in an identity that he would have to give up, in order to identify as a follower of Jesus. And those caring people who have offered me another vision of my life, one with less pressure, one with less perfectionism, they knew it wouldn’t be easy for me. But I wonder, what hope lies beyond the identity to which I cling? What must I do to inherit eternal life? The rich man’s identity was invested in comfort, and that kept him from making his investment into the deeper reality of life with God.

Jesus talks to the disciples and reminds them that this teaching refers to them too. What must they do to inherit eternal life? Where is there investment? The disciples are taken aback by this news that the rich, those with that identity blinding them, will have a really hard time entering the Kingdom of God! Those who normally do such a good job of taking care of themselves and others, cannot save themselves. Disciples, holy followers of God in Christ are scared. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it. This teaching by Jesus is scary. To give up an identity focused on security and wealth and doing fine, is scary. It’s scary to think this is the good news-that a comfortable life on earth may not lead to the union with God, that deepest desire. It’s scary. But what’s scarier than letting go of those attributes holding us back, is the idea of the kingdom being so far away. And the idea that my attribute leads me to a lack of trust in God. It’s impossible for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle. It’s metaphor, hyperbole, where Jesus seems to be saying, hey guys! It can’t happen. So the disciples are anxious, like the man Jesus spoke to is anxious, and the disciples may be a little angry, since they had worked so hard to be who they are. And they ask, maybe whisper to each other “who can be saved?”

For mortals it is impossible. For God all things are possible, for God camels might just fit through holes of needles, for God all are invited, for God, nothing is impossible, in God we have our breath and being and identity. And we are invited to act out of the gratitude that comes with the relief that my whole self and your whole self are invited. Invited to a life of discipleship. Invited to a new identity. Invited to a new understanding. Invited to seek the kingdom of heaven. Invited to follow Jesus. Invited to embrace one another, the last, the first and the in-between. Invited to give up what holds us back form seeking God and God’s face in one another. I remember when I was early on in my year in the Episcopal Service Corps in Baltimore, Maryland. I was having a hard time adjusting to the daily experience of poverty and violence in Baltimore, it was all so close for the first time. I remember thinking in anger-“this is going to change me!” After that heated moment, my boiling point, there was this sense of calm, like, “Oh, I see. That’s the point.” I felt different after releasing myself to be changed, like a weight had been lifted. Learning to live and love in a new environment and as an outsider surely was going to change me. Once I made my investment in following the call to this community, I was ready. I could experience that closeness of God that I so desired on difficult days, I knew that what I was doing was hard, but that God was with me and molding me. Knowing that God invites us to change for the better, to let go of what binds us reminds me of how close God is.

The new identity we are invited into, as followers of Jesus, is one that is well-articulated in our Baptismal Covenant. We promise to let go, to die with Jesus and rise with Jesus. We promise to follow the commandments and then some. We promise to seek righteousness and turn from things holding us back from fullness of life. That is our identity. Our identity is in baptism, our identity as followers of Jesus is that we are Christ’s, Christ’s own, forever. Our investment is with Christ. With our baptized identity we promise to love one another and seek Christ in all people. We have a lot to lose, but it’s not money or comfort or my perfectionism. It is the loss of the opportunity to have a life that trusts the love and salvation of Jesus. We stand to lose the joy that comes from living in relationship with God and one another. We stand to lose that sigh of relief when one recognizes “for mortals it is impossible. But for God all things are possible.” We cannot save ourselves through perfectionism or money or status, but Jesus invites us into a saving relationship, into the reign of God.

Jesus invites the rich man and the disciples to abide in eternal life with God, saying “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”