*The lectionary used by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod divides Mark 10:17-31 into two readings over the next two Sundays (verses 17-22 and 23-31). In contrast, the Revised Common Lectionary keeps it together as a single text this week and adds Mark 10:35-45 next week. Before you choose the Gospel reading for this Sunday, it is worth taking a few minutes to consider which would be most helpful to your hearers over the next few weeks. Because 10:17-31 comprises a single unit, and because 10:35-45 raises another important theme, I suggest following the RCL for these two weeks.
Reactions to Jesus were usually extreme. Some people marveled at what He said and did. Others got angry. Some people wanted to put Him on a throne. Others wanted to put Him in the grave. Great joy or great offense—those were the usual responses to Jesus. Which makes the rich young man in this text stand out. He walked away neither angry not elated. Instead, he was sad (στυγνάσας – gloomy, disheartened, downcast). Why? Because he had great wealth.
We do normally not associate great wealth with sadness—especially not as Americans. We nod to the theory money cannot buy happiness, and we have heard winning the lottery brings trouble. But most of us believe a little more wealth would make life a lot better. So, we expand portfolios, lobby for raises, switch companies for better salaries, and hire people to weasel every tax-break in the book.
To say the rich young man’s sadness came from his wealth needs to be unpacked, of course. He did not seem particularly bothered by his money before his conversation with Jesus. And his question betrayed no intention of bringing up finances. But he should not have been surprised. Jesus talked about money all the time. He gave play-by-play on gifts to the Temple Treasury. He advocated for taxes to Caesar. His parables addressed investing talents, paying off debts, and searching for lost coins. He compared His reign to fields with treasures and pearls of great price. When asked about His own taxes, He sent Peter to fetch a coin from the mouth of a fish.
Why did Jesus mention money so often? It was probably the same reason He answered the rich young man’s question by telling him to sell everything. Because human beings—especially those who have a lot of money—live in a world where the almighty dollar is…well, almighty. Jesus forced him to consider a question everyone must ask at some point in life. What is most important in your life? For the rich young man, it was his wealth. This realization saddened him, but it did not change him.
Jesus forced him to consider a question everyone must ask at some point in life. What is most important in your life?
After he left, Jesus began a lesson for his disciples and us. “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:23)! Why? He had already answered that question at the beginning of His ministry in the Sermon on the Mount. We can only serve one master. It is either God or money (reference Matthew 6:24).
Which brings us to your hearers. If they are American, they are probably wealthy—by global standards, if not in comparison to their neighbors. We live in a world which revolves around income and investments and equity and credit. Money itself is not the problem, of course. It is the love of money; Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:10. That is an important distinction. But the more money we have, the more we are tempted to love and trust it above all things.
Which might make this a good Sunday to talk about the offering. Like every aspect of the worship service, it is a good idea to help your hearers think theologically about why and how we do what we do. When I was a pastor, I included a regular note in the bulletin about why we give offerings each week. I came up with five reasons:
1. To thank God for providing for all our needs.
2. To fight against our love for money.
3. To strengthen our trust that God will continue providing for us.
4. To remind ourselves God is the true owner of all things.
5. To help those in physical and spiritual need.
Notice the difference between this approach to giving and the way our world thinks about giving. Americans can be very generous—both as a nation to support other nations, and as individuals when disaster strikes. But most of the time they do not give like Christians. Americans give to help those in need, but only after their own needs have been met. Americans give a lot at the end of the year, but often to maximize tax-breaks. For Christians, however, it is the first four on the list which drive our giving. And of those four, the second applies most directly when we think about the rich young man in the text.
Like every aspect of the worship service, it is a good idea to help your hearers think theologically about why and how we do what we do.
Because your hearers (as well as you and me) are shaped by the world in which we live, consider framing the offering this week as a chance to discipline ourselves against the constant temptation to serve the wrong master. As we put the envelope in the plate, or as we click submit on the website, we would benefit from learning to utter under our breath, “You are not my master. You are not my God. You cannot save me.”
Jesus is. Jesus is our master. He is our God. He can save us. And graciously, He does. He saves us from the love of money which sent the rich young man away sad. He saves us from prisons of greed and discontent. He saves us for the same reason He spoke the truth to the rich young man in the text. He looked at him and he loved him (Mark 10:21). He loves you and your hearers, too, which is why He speaks the truth about money as its idolatrous power.
Which gets to the main goal of your sermon. Jesus’ love for us is ultimately the only thing that overcomes our love for money. Your proclamation of His love—His forgiving, life-giving, saving love—must not only accompany but also overshadow your warning against serving the wrong master.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 10:17-22.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 10:17-22.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. John Nordling of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 10:17-22.