Reflection for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity.
”Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Jesus, in Mark 10:17-31.
”Daisies are our silver, buttercups our gold
This is all the treasure we can have or hold.” Children’s hymn by Jan Struther.
It’s timely that, as energy and fuel prices escalate, the £20 uplift is removed from universal credit and the cost of living is becoming a concern for many, this week’s Gospel concerns a rich man asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. The unnamed man calls Jesus the Good Teacher and is told off by him as practising Jews name only God as good. At this stage, the man has not divulged that he is wealthy but perhaps his clothing or manner made this obvious because Jesus then reminds him of the commandments that deal with other people and instead of You shall not covet substitutes You shall not defraud (10:19). A rich man might not need actually to covet because he already has so much but could perhaps be tempted to increase his wealth by robbing in other ways as the actions of many scammers and loan sharks today show.
In the time of Jesus, wealth was seen as a sign of God’s favour and the prosperity Gospel is still based on this, especially in America. To some extent it’s true – for example, Quakers were known for their hard work and could be trusted, which made people want to do business with them. Living simply, Quakers then became wealthy and so banks such as Lloyd’s and Barclay’s or manufacturers like Rowntree, Fry, Cadbury and Clark shoes prospered. Nor is there anything wrong with money in itself: one of the most frequently quoted verses in the Bible suggests that money is the root of all evil, whereas actually it’s The love of money is the root of all evil. (1 Tim. 6:10.) Money can do a great deal of good when it is used to help others and, as currently it’s being suggested that some of the poorest people may not be able to afford both food and fuel this winter, industry is also paying the price with some energy suppliers, factories and businesses already closing down. All this in a country which is so wealthy compared to many others.
However, the rich man’s question is not about lifestyle. He asks what he must do to
inherit eternal life and, for anyone to be able to inherit, usually a death has occurred. Inheritance often involves a family and Jesus’ uncompromising reply to the man makes it clear that he is inviting him to have spiritual treasure in heaven through redistributing what he has to the poor and following him. The man would be joining a different family, the household of God, through Jesus and his teaching, but it’s too much for him: “He was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” (10:22) Significantly, Jesus did not go after him, but gave him freedom to live by the choice he made. What the rich man did is in contrast to the heritage here, where the wealthy Prince Brochwel so generously gave this part of the valley freely to Melangell and an abbey was established, leading to the tradition of sanctuary, healing and hospitality which still flourishes today.
All this is a costly business both spiritually and practically and there is no such thing as cheap grace, as the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote. But as the economics of life today become more complex in addition to issues such as the pandemic, pollution and climate change, before all of us are stark choices about lifestyle and the consequences of it now for those who will inherit the stewardship of creation long after we are gone. If, as Jan Struther suggests, creation is to be treasured then pray for COP26 – all previous targets the leaders of the nations set themselves have not been met. Will future ones?
Those leaders – and each of us, no matter what our circumstances – will have chances to make a difference to the lives of other people as well as ourselves. That matters as, like the rich man, we also have freedom to live by the choices we make and the possibility of a change of heart. For now.
Did the rich man change his mind later? Were the words of Jesus mulled over for a delayed response? Mark tells us that, nevertheless, Jesus loved him and it may be that we find ourselves, for all sorts of reasons, also unable to respond to something being asked of us. It’s never too late but it’s so easy to keep God and our neighbour waiting or at a distance rather than respond now to that love that is richer than gold………. better than splendour and wealth.” Estelle White.
With my prayers; pob bendith,