“And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him,"Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:17-22)
We know these commandments. We have heard them many times. You know the commandments. Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do no bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother. It sounds easy. It sounds like a manageable set of instructions. We’ve heard them in catechism class. And we do ok. We are decent enough people.
We’re probably doing fine. We’re not murderers or adulterers. We’re not thieves who steal. We are not frauds. And we treat our parents all right. Good enough anyways. We are church go-ers – the moral majority – we have it together. We are good people.
The rich young man says “but teacher all these commandments I have kept from my youth.” He has done well enough. This rich young man is good person. He is a moral person. He has a good reputation. He’s well respected and professional. He’s kind to his parents. Doesn’t murder. Doesn’t steal. He probably supports or votes for the right political party. He has everything right.
The rich young man is looking for self-affirmation. He is looking for a self help and positive thinking. Likewise, we want to worship in a way that makes us feel like we are doing ok. We want to worship so that we may be self-affirmed and self-justified. We want approval from God about our lifestyle, and spiritual progress. Like the rich man I may want God to say, “Yes Vicar Larson, you have done well enough, job well done, you’re a good fellow…”
Even if I somehow deceive myself to think this. I am lying to myself. We know the commandments. Do not murder is the first one mentioned here by our Lord. Goodness gracious, how often have we neglected those calling out in the darkness, all around us, even family even friends? Failed to support them in every physical need? Neglected praying for them, asking that God deliver them from whatever ails them? How many times have we turned from the oppressed and the needy? How many times have our hearts been hardened toward a fellow Christian, or any person for that matter? How many times have we murdered in our hearts? If we could see the carnage it would shock us. Bodies strewn about as far as the eye can see.
How many times have we closed our eyes or ears to silent pleas for mercy all around us? Small, barely audible calls for help we have failed to hear or anticipate. And failed to meet them in their deep and desperate need. How many times have we crucified a neighbor, by violently lacerating them with our tongues, hurting their reputation, refusing to the put the best construction on things? As Pastor Johnson preached a few weeks ago, our tongues start blazing fires of destruction and slaughter.
Yet the law condemns. It does not comfort, or confirm any semblance of peace. These commandments break us. And this is only one of the commands. And we know from the Word of our Lord that if we break one we have violated and rebelled against them all. They dash us to pieces. They are not encouraging or inspiring, or helpful suggestions to live a better life. They do not help the rich young man.
The tablets of Moses will not save us. They expose us and shame us. They strip us naked before God. They expose the Rich Young Man. They expose his obsession with his personal possessions and his misplaced trust in his own self-righteousness. He is left naked with his sin.
Even in our self-righteousness when we cover ourselves up with the fig leaves, Jesus does not scoff at us or become frustrated. He is deeply moved in his very body to call us to repentance and to spill out mercy.
In our text for today, after the rich young man insists on his obedience to the Ten Commandments, we read that “Jesus looked at him, and loved him.” The Greek word in the text for love is “agape.” This word would does not suggest the mere feeling of love but an action – an event – an exchange of love completely consuming – a love withholding nothing – a love that is poured out – for all – especially for this young rich man.
Jesus looking at His Church desiring her says, “leave these things that you cling to and cling to me alone. I am the Good Shepherd.” Jesus has one message for the self-righteous young rich man. Leave your idols and FOLLOW ME. Often times in the church this passage has been used to support a radical sort of discipleship. A sort of false discipleship that suggests we go on some sort of super religious quest, in turn leaving our vocations, our callings, and abandoning our station in life to run after some spiritual quest or cause. However, Jesus asks none of this.
He calls us to be near, saying “follow me.” In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is constantly moving, casting out demons, healing diseases, teaching among the people, praying and singing psalms. But he is moving. Constantly moving. And he is asking all of creation to follow him. Jesus is moving in one direction to fulfill the scriptures. He is moving toward Jerusalem.
And by the sending of the Holy Spirit he takes us along for the journey. He carries us to the waters of heaven in the arms of family or friends. We are dipped in the promise of holy baptism. "Follow me," he says. Go to where I am going. I am going to make all things new. Our Lord invites us into a precious death. He desires that we follow him. That is, be present at the places where he promises to be. Through the new life of baptism, through the hearing of His Word, through the singing of His hymns, and the feasting on the Supper of immortal life.
The old world of disobedience is drowned to death. The self-righteous old adam and old eve is put to death. The self-righteous rich man in all of us is put to death and is buried in the crucifixion of Jesus. This Jesus who became a curse for us, though it was He who was the only obedient one. And he loved His heavenly father and loved his creation with a perfect love. He was the obedient one unto death.
And in His gift to us we receive all that is his. His holiness and righteousness is given to us as a gift. So that when we are resurrected and are dressed and clothed in His holy gospel, God our Father says to you, “You are my dear son…You are my dear daughter with whom I am well pleased.”
He does not see our self-righteousness, or arrogance, or adultery and sexual sin. He does not see our drunkenness. He does not hear the lies we told, nor does he hear our slandering lips laying waste to our neighbor. He does not see our worst sins the plague off day and night. Even those horrible ones that we think have cast him off forever. He cannot leave you. He has bound himself to you, as we heard in last weeks sermon. For he says “at last bone of by bone and flesh of my flesh!”
He sees that Jesus has made a follower of you. Not by what you have done, but because who you are. You are a follower because you have been shepherded by the Good Teacher, who fulfilled the commandments which we did not.
You have followed because Jesus has looked at you and loved you. A perfect disciple before God in heaven because each and every sin is blotted out by the blood of his son. And he sees Jesus in you and for you…and sees your good deeds and holy obedience for which you will be greatly rewarded in this life and in the life to come. In the name of Jesus. Amen.