BLESSED TO BE A BLESSING: A STEWARD’S CHOICE
(From the Parable of the Rich Young Ruler -Mark 10:17-31)
(Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Winfred B.. Vergara at St. Michael & All Angels Parish, Seaford, New York, 10.13.2012)
“There is one thing you still need to do. Go sell everything you own. Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the man heard this, he went away gloomy and sad because he was very rich. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for rich people to enter in to God’s kingdom.”(Mark 10:21-23
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The rector announced on the pulpit one Sunday, “Brothers and sisters, I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that we now have the money to do the needed repairs in our church, we now have the money to feed the hungry in our neighborhood, and we now have the money to hire a Youth Director.” What’s the bad news Father? , the congregation asked, “The bad news is,” he said, “the money is still in your pockets!”
That is exactly the situation here with the rich young ruler. He has followed almost every commandment. He probably went to the temple regularly. But he asked Jesus to have eternal life, Jesus made the challenge, “Go and sell all your possessions and give it to the poor and come follow me.” That was bad news for him; he went away sorrowful because he has great possessions.
Today, we start a series of stewardship reflections called “Blessed to be a Blessing,” as recommended by the Office of Stewardship. This is in preparation for the coming year when we renew our pledges to pray and support the ministries of our church. Every Sunday, the readings and the reflections are designed to remind us, that all that we have and all that we think we possess, are actually God’s and that we are stewards of His great and manifold blessings.
It is important to understand that in this gospel today, the focus of Jesus was not on the wealth of this rich young ruler. The focus of Jesus teaching was on his attachment to wealth. We must also understand that the Bible does not say that “money is the root of all evil.” What it says (in 1st Timothy 6:10) is “the love of money is the root of all evil.” In this example the rich young ruler was unwilling to let go of his possessions in exchange for the vocation that Jesus offered. He had fallen in love with the gifts and forgot the Giver. He failed to realize that wealth is not eternal but God is eternal. He failed to realize that when you have God, you have everything and when you don’t have God, you have nothing. It is God who gives us knowledge and skills and good health and strength to get wealth. Jesus said, in John 10:10 “I come that you may have life and have abundantly.” The apostle John also wrote to a friend, Gaius, “I wish above all else that you may prosper and be of good health even as your soul prospers” (III John 2)
As stewards, God’s blessings upon us are not meant to be hoarded but to be shared. This story about the rich young ruler also reminds us of a parable of Jesus (Luke 12:13-21) where the man was blessed to have plenty of harvest but instead of sharing some the blessings, he built a big barn to store them. Then he had many more harvest but again instead of sharing with others, he built and built more barns. When finally he filled all the many barns that he had built, he said to himself, “Now I am ready to enjoy it” but that very day that he was to enjoy them, God took his life. It is interesting that this parable was called “parable of the rich fool.” It seems that the “rich young ruler” is also a rich fool.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church said, “there are three things we can do with money: first, we must earn as much money as we can; second, we must save as much money as we can; third, we must give as much money as we can.”The problem of the rich young ruler as well as the man who built so many barns is that they were able to do the first two things; they earned what they can; they saved what they can; but they failed and refused to do the third---they did not give what they can. Again the focus of Jesus is not their wealth per se but their attitude towards wealth.
The late Terry Parsons the former Stewardship Officer of the Episcopal Church said that “the desire to have more possessions than what we need are the primary temptations that come with money. Mansions, flashy cars, walk-in closets full of rarely or never-worn clothing, cabinets full of things that are seldom used but need to be dusted, all of the non-essentials that wealth tempts us to accumulate can become not signs of God’s blessings, but the barriers to a life-altering relationship with God. As prosperity grows, our decisions about using money move slowly from an emphasis on needs to wants. We have it not because we need it, but because we want it. “if you’ve got it, flaunt it..” The motto of this generation is “shop till you drop; the one with the most toys win.”
Terry continued, “As we watch the rich young man walk away, some recall the widow whom Jesus applauds when she, among all the people bringing substantial offerings, gives only two small coins. In Mark 12 we read: “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she, out of her poverty, has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Ironically, the widow has done what the Rich Young Ruler could not. Can it be that it is easier not to possess many things?
“Consider this lesson on how to trap a monkey. The story goes that African hunters wanting to capture monkeys unharmed would use as a trap a bottle with a long narrow neck, just large enough so a monkey could put its hand in it. In the evening the bottle would be tied to a tree, and in the bottom of the bottle they would place several good-smelling nuts. In the morning they would find a monkey with its hand clutching the nuts, held securely in the bottle. At any time, the monkey could have released itself simply by opening its hand and letting go of the nuts.”
Years ago as a seminarian, I served at student chaplain in a hospital in connection with my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). I had the privileged of witnessing births and deaths and gaining pastoral insights. I observed that when a child is born into this world, the position of the hands is a close fist and the first thing that she learns is to “close-open, close-open” her hands. It seems to say that from birth, we have the tendency to “acquire and to acquire.” But when people die, the position of the hands are often open palms, as if saying “everything I acquired, I left behind.”
That "we can’t take them with us” does not mean that riches can’t be seen as coming from God. They can be and are. But our attitude to them is like that of the late Jaime Cardinal Sin of the Roman Catholic Church who said, “money is the manure of the devil but in the vineyard of God, it is good fertilizer.”
Riches can be seen as God’s gifts– just as we see time, talent, wisdom, good health, right opportunity and a host of other things as blessings from God. But again, they are marked for stewardship. God’s gifts carry with it God’s hope that they might be used by His stewards wisely for the kingdom of God. The rich your ruler was like the monkey who got trapped in the bottle because he cannot let go of his nuts. In the process, he failed to enter into a great adventure that will carry him surely to the kingdom of heaven.”
It is amazing that the fisherman “who left everything and followed Jesus” had his name written for all eternity--“St. Peter” while this rich young ruler who clung to his possessions had his name buried with his bones, in complete oblivion and anonymity.
On this Sunday, think about what God’s blessings on you and ask, “How can I be a blessing?”