Text: Mark 10:23-31
“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.” We heard these words of the inspired prophet King David a few weeks ago when we recognized the blessings God has given to and through the LWML. David sang these words to God at a time when ruthless men – men whom he had trusted – sought his life and chased him away from his throne. Our text a few weeks back ended with David’s encouragement, “Trust in Him at all times, O people…God is a refuge for us.” This same psalm of David also bears witness to what we learn in the Gospel text today.
Later in Psalm 62, David sang, “Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.” Not only did David learn to trust in God more than all men, he also learned not to set his hope or heart on wealth and riches. David knew that the proper way to use the wealth that God gives us is not to use it only on ourselves, but for the benefit of our neighbor. Jesus also teaches in our text today that we should use what God gives us in service of the Gospel. However, we should not trust in our actions for salvation, for salvation is only possible through faith in Christ.
Our text this week from Mark 10 picks up where we left off last week. Last week, we heard about the rich young man who ran up to Jesus and asked what he could do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered that if he would like to earn his way in, he must obey all the commandments – which includes fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things. The man went away sorrowful, for he was not ready to place faith in Christ above his wealth and possessions. After he went away, Jesus said to His disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” At this, the Disciples were amazed – and not in a good way. Then, Jesus said again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples were exceedingly astonished by this. That’s because, particularly in St. Mark’s account of the Gospel, the disciples are always a mixed bag; they never quite get it. What’s troubling them in this text was their cultural understanding of what it meant to have wealth. If a person was wealthy in Bible times, it was expected that they would also be generous with that wealth. Wealthiness was seen by many as a special sign of God’s favor. It was taught that those who had been so blessed by God were then able to spend their lives in devotion to works of charity and love. The rich people didn’t have to farm or fish or slave away for a living; they could be entirely devoted to good works. In the disciples’ eyes, if there ever was a candidate perfect for salvation, it would’ve been the rich young man. He was wealthy – which meant he was loved by God. He was pious. What more could be expected? So, when Jesus said that it was only with great difficulty that the rich would enter heaven, that brought the disciples almost to despair, “Then who can be saved,” they said.
With this teaching, Jesus touched on a nerve that is as active now as it was then, and that is: the proper use of our wealth and possessions. Between last week’s and this week’s texts, Jesus is not saying that wealth and possessions are bad – or that we should necessarily get rid of them – but that we should use them for their intended purposes. The things that we have, the wealth and possessions that are ours, come as blessings of God and – properly speaking – belong to Him. The things that we have should be used in service of the Gospel of Christ and for the good of our neighbors. The problem is that the Old Adam doesn’t want anything to do with that.
The difficulty for the rich, and really, everybody, is that our sinful nature prefers to use our money and possessions in sinful ways. Perhaps the most common way is that we plain use our money in devotion to sinful activities and desires. It becomes a sort of fuel for sinning. We use money to buy things we don’t need, because we covet and lust after things. We use our money to experience things we shouldn’t. We pay for movies and television shows that speak and influence against our holy faith. We invest in items and places that preclude us from hearing God’s Word and receiving the Sacrament on a regular basis. On top of this, money and possessions make us prideful. We feel secure and safe when have them and we despair when we don’t. Both pride and despair both involve rejecting the Gospel of Christ. Or, if we don’t fall into these things, what can also get us is pride in how much we give away. This is the struggle the disciples were falling into – they assumed rich people must be righteous because how much they give away.
These things are what Jesus meant by it being difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. And, ultimately, Jesus taught that it is impossible for man – on his own account – to be saved. It is impossible for us to merit or work out or deserve salvation, even if for no other reason than that we use our money in sinful ways. But, with God all things are possible. With God, it is possible for sinful human creatures who use their money to fuel their sinful desires to go to heaven. It is possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus set aside all earthly wealth and possessions and resisted their allure, so that He might gain for us treasure in heaven.
The Scriptures say that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin. He did not use what He did have in pursuit of sin, He did not pride Himself in possessing even the whole universe. Instead, He emptied Himself of all glory to suffer and die on the cross so that our sins would be paid for and that eternal life be restored to us. By faith in Him we are forgiven, and by our Baptism into His death and resurrection we have received His Holy Spirit. The Spirit leads us to walk in newness of life, including the proper use of the wealth that God has given us.
The things that we have do not belong to us, but to the Giver of All Good Things, and we should use them as such. The money God does give us should be used to support, feed, and clothe our families. It should be used to aid those who are suffering whom we are in a position to help. We should use what we have been given in service to the spread of the Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins in Christ. But, we should not put our faith in our possessions and become secure, nor should we count on our giving for salvation. For, with man salvation is impossible. But, with God, all things are possible.