Today’s lesson involves an anonymous man who asked Jesus about gaining eternal life. ” ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ” (Mark 10:17). The question is fair enough, although Jesus seemed to have a problem with the way the man addressed him. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18).
Jesus’ odd response about God only being good seems to question Jesus’ divinity. How we feel about Jesus’ nature doesn’t undermine the central thesis, which focuses on gaining life in the spirit. The term “good” doesn’t seem particularly strong to us, but it must have been the inquirer’s intended use that upset Jesus. Perhaps the questioner was trying to patronize, to honor Jesus with a flattering word. Jesus corrected the man and said that God alone deserves such honor.
Now back to the heart of the first question, which takes a twist when Jesus tells the man to keep the commandments. The man replies, “. . . I have kept all these since my youth” (Mark 10:20b). What could be wrong with someone who follows all the rules? We’re misinterpreting the Gospel if we think slavish rule-following is what God wants. God prefers our inside-out spiritual transformation. This way, we do what’s right not because law demands it but because love motivates us. Some people follow rules to a fault and yet there is nothing alive on their inside. A mechanical adherence to the law and rules is not a worthy substitute for a healthy, soul-empowered love.
Back to our story. Jesus chided the man for his love of money. The man walked away sad when Jesus advised him to sell what he had, give the money to the poor, and follow him. Amid the drama the man missed an opportunity to become a disciple. This sad spectacle prompted Jesus to discuss the difficult road of salvation, and how daunting a task it is to overcome wealth addiction. After the incident, the Apostles were astonished when Jesus said that obtaining salvation was like trying to pass a camel through a needle. They rightly asked how anyone could be saved. “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God. . .” (Mark 10:27). Jesus then assured his closest followers that since they had left everything to follow him they would be greatly blessed. Let us live our lives that God can also say this about us.
What about barriers to our salvation, and what it is that interferes with spiritual health? Then as now, it’s often the way we think. Our attitude and manner of thinking either makes us or breaks us. How we use our mind can either be one of our greatest assets or a fatal liability. Psychological evidence reveals the overwhelming role played by cognition (i.e., thinking). Whether we live well depends on how we discipline and manage what’s between our ears. The realm of psychotherapy known as cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) focuses on how proper thinking can change our behavior and therefore achieve better living. Inasmuch as our brain is like a muscle we must exercise it. As Christians, we might also add that food for the soul is crucial and that just as we strengthen the mind and body so also must we must feed our soul.
Aside from the manner of thinking, the love of money is a chief impediment to spirituality. Jesus spoke much about the dangers of wealth and even more about attachment to it. Greed, materialism and similar defects destroy from within, devouring like a cancer. The key to Jesus’ instruction is our willingness to use what we have for good, rather than for selfish ends and ultimately self-destruction. Bearing our soul before God can reveal the evil we cling to and then help us to reconstruct our priorities (as guided by God’s Holy Spirit). Does anything impede you from a vibrant, life-changing relationship with God? What are you willing to exchange for your soul?
Following closely the problem of wealth and greed are those of power, pride, and lust. There are other destructive mindsets but one relatively new one has become fatally attractive: disinterestedness, a long nasty word which is also a viral form of apathy. Disinterestedness is apathy with a forked-tail and razor-sharp teeth. If apathy is simple inattentiveness then disinterestedness is the attempt to aggressively block something. Disinterestedness is fed by cynicism and skepticism, twin conspirators in the malaise of modernity. Disinterestedness is deadly because people wither when they fight spiritual health. The erosion of the spirit is driven by a disinterestedness that ends in our demise. It is like a walking sleep, a nightmare wherein we lose interest in and awareness of what can most help us. The end result is a pernicious slow death that is all the more dangerous in that it isn’t obvious.
A recent national survey from the Pew Research Center of Religion & Public Life reveals Americans’ growing apathy and disaffection with religion. Sure, many aspects of organized religion are bad and should go away. However, we have the perennial problem of casting out the spiritual baby with the religious bath water. People are using bad religion as an excuse for starving their souls and wandering from the path of spiritual life.
Yes, church can sometimes be the problem. Formal, institutionalized religion has profound shortcomings. Other life interests and distractions can also be substituted for a healthy spirituality. Whatever it is that impedes your intimacy with God functions like a menacing idol. But the risk in drifting from the spiritual path is that people are replacing one problem with another. It would help all of us if we could do something other than fall-away, check-out or give-up.
The man in today’s story who walked away from Jesus had damaged his soul with faulty thinking and maligned priorities. All the money the man thought he’d save didn’t buy him a room in heaven. Jesus promises us that whatever we leave to follow God will be restored to us a hundredfold (Mark 10:30). The point is that when we embrace God we’re gaining more than we’re losing. Unlike the foolish man in today story, let’s become Jesus’ disciples and walk with God. The route may not be easy, but it’s the sure path to the promised land. –Reverend Hoxey