Impossible Love
February 21, 2024

Impossible Love


Mark 10:17-31

Welcome to the season of Lent, my friends. As our theme for these next six weeks we’re using “Look, Listen Feel: Experiencing the Way with Jesus.”  When Worship Committee looked at the stories and passages from the gospel of Mark, we saw many instances of Jesus’ looking at and listening to and with people and also inviting his disciples and followers to look and listen carefully. We also noticed how many of the stories invited us to imagine what other ways we’d experience them with our senses: feeling the dry dust of the road Jesus and his friends traveled, the fresh green smell of cut palm branches, the piercing pain of the thorns and nails of the passion.

As much as the physical sense we also noticed the feelings, the emotional content of these stories: shock at Jesus’ teachings, awe at the grandness of the temple, encouragement in community, anger when there’s conflict among the disciples. And love. Love of God and of neighbor, love within family and Jesus’ love for his people.

That’s what grabbed me about this story in particular: Love. There aren’t a lot of places in scripture when the gospel writers describe Jesus as loving the people he’s encountering. Indeed, this is the only place in Mark where Jesus is described as loving someone. Even though we sing, “Jesus loves me,” when I think of Jesus and emotion, I think more of Jesus’ compassion and pity. Or even his frustration and anger when he’s encountering injustice or resistance. But here it’s all love. And it’s a love that is unconditional, but it’s not without an invitation and challenge.

A man comes to Jesus, with a question. He has followed the tenets of Jewish faith. He’s done all the don’ts: Don’t murder, don’t cheat, don’t lie, don’t steal. He’s been faithful to his spouse and honored his parents. He’s doing a good job! Jesus looks at this man carefully, the text says, and loves him. Perhaps Jesus even identifies with him. What he doesn’t do is flatter him in the way that the man might have hoped or expected; calling Jesus ‘good teacher’ probably came with the expectation of a reciprocal compliment in return. 

Instead, Jesus extends an invitation. Perhaps he believes that this man is ready for the same invitation Jesus has offered the disciples before him - calling them to leave the security of of their professions as fishers to join his ministry of illuminating the Reign of God. Indeed, though the man asks about eternal life - a life after this one - and how he can earn it. Jesus calls him to be a part of God’s Reign of love and justice here and now in this life. 

That leap of faith and trust is too difficult.

I think many of us identify with the man. First of all because he’s just an ordinary guy. We learn later - after he turns away from Jesus - that he has many possessions (and btw - in some translations it says he has great wealth but most say something to the effect of his having many possessions). He has a lot of stuff but he’s just regular. He’s trying to be faithful. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do in his tradition and he’s seeking out Jesus, this leader and teacher, to learn more. He’s on the quest for self improvement.

Here we are - we’re doing what we’re supposed to do. We’re caring for our families, and keeping the peace. We’re going to church (almost) every Sunday. And also like the man, we have a lot of stuff. Whether or not we think of ourselves as wealthy - and I don’t think most people do, even the very rich - we are a part of a culture which is capitalist and consumerist. We would rather buy and have a thing than depend on someone else. Would rather collect stuff than build relationships.

Jesus’ response to the man - and, frankly to us - is expansive and loving. Though you wouldn’t know it at first, because he says, “It’s harder for someone with wealth to enter the Reign of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” That sounds pretty hard. I sometimes wonder if this was a common expression, like we might say, finding a rich man who can enter the kingdom of God is like looking for a needle in a haystack - to use another needle idiom.

Either way, the disciples are shocked. If rich people can’t get there, who can?! And either way, Jesus’ response to them - as with the man at first - is to look carefully at them, and to describe the nature of God’s impossible love. Because yes, when we trust in our possessions and money and self-sufficiency, when we trust in systems of capitalism and accumulation over investment in community and relationship (with God and other humans) it will be impossible to understand or experience God’s broad and expansive love. The Reign of God is growing in those dependencies and relationships. BUT with God, nothing is impossible. 

I like to think that as Mennonites we’re better than many other Christians at following Jesus’ instructions - after all, we’re the literal authors of More with Less. I brag about having my picture in Living More With Less, the early 80s companion to the More with Less cookbook, with tips about simplifying and paring down our lifestyles - household and recreation and travel and child-rearing.  We Mennonites champion simplicity and community and sustainability.

So perhaps in this story, in addition to identifying with the man, we maybe align with Peter and disciples. Peter gets excited and says, “Look what we did Jesus! We did what you said! We gave up our stuff! We’re following you!” We could write a book about it!

Jesus loves him too. And goes on to remind him that in the Reign of God, everything is upside down. It's a snow globe that’s been shaken up and everything is all mixed up. So be careful how much you’re claiming top spot.

The thing about this impossibly mixed up kingdom, is that it is like the man initially asked about: God’s reign over eternity. It is about where we find ourselves in the hereafter. And it’s already happening now. And now. And now. Eternity isn’t something we earn, it’s something that’s already in motion. I think it’s because of that truth that the invitation is always available. Always possible. In the Reign of God all things are possible. That’s both because God’s grace and love are expansive enough to welcome us into that eternal presence and because if we can imagine a way to free ourselves more and more from our stuff - our self-sufficient dependence on things - we begin to experience what God’s Reign is now: community, interdependence, sharing, mutuality. With God and with each other.

It is possible that though the man went away sad because he couldn’t drop everything like Peter and Andrew did, that he came back later. We don’t know. We don’t know whether being looked on with the loving eyes of Jesus planted seeds that grew into something later. 

I am skeptical of people who use language of having a personal relationship with Jesus. I apologize if that’s you and I’ve created some tension by saying that. I don’t usually think of my own faith in those terms. But a story like this one, imagining Jesus’ looking at me carefully, examining me, does make me rethink that position. When I imagine Jesus looking at me I see invitation. I see questioning. I see challenge. I might see disappointment - sometimes. I definitely see love. I don’t see judgment.

How do you feel when you imagine Jesus looking carefully at you? What is Jesus calling you to? What way is Jesus calling you to follow? What is Jesus calling us to together? What impossible thing will God make possible? 

I am grateful that one of the ways that we demonstrate our commitment to community and to living in the Reign of God even now, is to practice the Lord’s Supper together. Jesus’ last meal with this community offered them a taste - literally - of love poured out, of a new covenant, whose boundaries are not that of absolutisms and law, but of commitment to God and neighbor and willingness to receive God’s abundant grace.

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