RCL Year B Proper 23
Amos 5:6-7 and 10-15, Psalm 90:12-17, Hebrews 4:12-16, Saint Mark 10:17-31

Last Sunday, the Pharisees’ test question of Jesus about Moses’ permission to divorce brought forth the distinction between God’s perfect will and God’s permissive will. God’s perfect will is that marriage be permanent, but God’s permissive will is that divorce is acceptable.

The distinction clarifies in today’s Gospel about the Rich Man. God’s perfect will for him is what Jesus suggests he do: “sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”[1] This suggestion is more than the Rich Man can perform. He goes away from Jesus “grieving, for he had many possessions.” He is rich, and God permits him to be rich.

In the Old Testament, riches are considered to be signs of God’s favor. The patriarchs and kings have flocks and herds, and they are rich. The reading today from Amos contradicts the idea of God’s favor for the rich, and it is unusual in the Old Testament in this regard. But Jesus holds out for God’s perfect will as an ideal. The Rich Man will have done everything humanly possible if he sells his possessions, gives the money to the poor, and follows Jesus.

As the Rich Man goes away, he has his riches and his ability to keep the commandments as he has kept them all of his life. The problem he has is the false security his wealth gives him. Is his security given him by his wealth, power, and merit? Or, does he acknowledge that God provides his security? If he lets goods and kindred go, then he declares he knows his security is from God. But if he keeps them, well, does his security come from them or from God? His wealth divides his loyalty to God.

When the disciples ask Jesus who can be saved, he tells them that “[f]or mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”[2] Achievement of salvation is beyond human capability and depends solely on the goodness of God who offers it as a gift. That is what the Rich Man, the disciples, and we must understand. We must learn to see that everything we have comes from God. And everything we have can lead us back to God. We need a steadiness and steadfastness toward God as we handle all of God’s blessings. We can take nothing for granted. But we can take everything, everything, as a gift from God.

[1] Saint Mark 10:21.

[2] Saint Mark 10:27.