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.
Today, that guy could have really used a good Christian friend right about now.
In the reading today from Mark, about that young rich ruler that came to Jesus. We kind of like this guy, he seems sincere enough, trying to be a decent human being, if you’re into that kind of thing I’m sure he ran in the right kind of circles and had considerable influence and finances. The kind of guy that many would say, “he’s been blessed by God.” But today, he ran into a wall named Jesus and the day just wasn’t turning out how he had planned. Now we can’t hear his tone of voice when he asks Jesus what must I do to earn eternal life, so we don’t know why he originally came to Jesus, whether to prove something to his friends or to confirm for himself what he already believed, that he had it all together; but the answer Jesus gives to Him today was not what he was expecting to hear, “You lack one thing, sell everything you have then you will have eternal life.”
Like usual, it wasn’t about the money per see but about the love of things more than God, about where he found his identity and his hope, about who was going to be in control. Because this young rich ruler did not see himself as a sinner in need of the grace of God but as a person who had earned the right to eternal life tomorrow and material blessings today. But as so often happens, he hit a wall, a reality check about how life really was and where this way of seeing himself, his identity so closely associated with material wealth would eventually lead him, not to God and eternal life but only to the fate of all material things, dust and the grave. That’s not a good place to go, away from God and eternal life, so Jesus becomes a wall for him, a wake up call, a stop sign in the road that say’s hey buddy, time to wake up and learn what’s really important in life, learn it today because who knows what tomorrow will bring.
He walked away sorrowful because he had great possession and because he didn’t want to let go of how he wanted to see the world. We don’t know what happened to him after this, though some have speculated he may have been Joseph of Arimathea, the rich young man who followed Jesus secretly for fear of the Jews but would later provide the tomb for Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. We don’t know, but either way, today that guy could have really used a good Christian friend right about then.
A good Christian friend that would have encouraged him in his sorrow and in Christian love turned him back to Jesus. Because the whole point wasn’t really for the rich young ruler to do something for Jesus, but for his heart to be changed, to see himself as he really was. The rich young man couldn’t do any of that on his own, he needed help, he needed to let go and let Jesus lead and guide him. A good Christian friend would have encouraged him in that way.
Today, I could really use a good Christian friend right about now.
Because I keep running into this wall named Jesus. Every time I try to steer the car and say Jesus I know you want me to go this way but I really want to go this other way. Every time I keep hearing Jesus remind me that no, this particular thing you’re doing isn’t good for you, yes it will hurt you and yes it will walk you away from the love of God but I want to do it anyways. Every time when I say I’ve got this, I’m in charge, I don’t really need Jesus, I can put my faith life, my devotions, my prayers on the back burner I run into another wall I’m not expecting and it reveals the shaky foundation I was building without Jesus front and center. These are the same kind of walls I ran into yesterday’s “today” and pretty sure the same kind of walls I will run into with tomorrow’s “today” but right now while it is still today, I could really use a good Christian friend. A good Christian friend who will comfort me in my discouragement and turn me back to Jesus, back to the place I really needed to be all along.
Today, someone could really use a good Christian friend right about now.
It might even be you. We have special words for this, when Christians encourage and support one another in their faith and life, phrases like “the mutual consolation of the saints” and “the communion of the saints.” Martin Luther was this close (see me holding my fingers together to an inch or so apart) to including this special type of encouragement between brothers and sisters in Christ as a sacrament, just like baptism has a physical and spiritual aspect, the water and the Words and Promises of God, so to when we encourage each other in our Christian faith it is the person (the physical aspect) sharing the Words and Promises of God (the spiritual aspect) with another. Take this to its full meaning, that when you share the love of God in Jesus, when you encourage the saints, when you provide Christian consolation for the spirits of your brothers and sisters in the faith, God is working through you, transforming you into a living sacrament of God’s grace. In Jesus, you are a living sacrament of God’s grace where heaven and earth meet through you.
That sounds all fancy, maybe a little scary, maybe a little above our pay grades, but what it really means is someone could really use a good Christian friend right about now. Because today someone’s heart is being hardened by sin; because today someone has run into a wall and they’re going the wrong way, away from Jesus not towards Him, because today one of your brothers or sisters in Christ is really down in the dumps and they can’t remember that Jesus loves them. God is calling, will you listen, will you say, “here I am, send me, send me!”
Because today someone could really used a good Christian friend right about now. Amen.