Lectionary: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31
The Phoenicians were scattered through an area of what is now Lebanon and Syria from the mid-1500s BC until about 300 BC. These neighbours of ancient Israel worshipped a god named Moloch whose religious rituals included child sacrifice.
I dropped in that piece of history just to remind us that humans are very capable of justifying the most horrific practices imaginable. And while we are willing to frown on such a pagan activity, let me remind you that we are capable of such sacrifices – we’re just more civilized in how we do it.
We allow our leaders to sacrifice our children by making them soldiers and sending them to far away places for extended periods of time, for political reasons. Often those soldiers die or come home permanently broken because we allow power and pride in a flag to be more important than they are.
Parents pursuing careers and working long hours can get swamped to the point where they barely find worthwhile time for their children. Babysitters, daycares, schools, peers, computers and televisions take their place when teachable moments arise.
However this post isn’t about how we treat children but how we assess and manage what is important in our lives. We have a vast capacity for sacrificing good things in order to fulfill our own interests, desires, or needs.
There are many stories of pastors who were so busy doing ‘the Lord’s work’ of caring for people that it cost them their own health, marriage, or the well-being of their children. Missionaries engaged for many years in the common practice of going overseas then sending their children hundreds of miles away to be raised in missionary schools.
What is it, really, that God expects from us?
As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’”
“Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”
Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, 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 astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”
Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said.
“Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” – Mark 10:17-31 (NLT) (emphasis mine)
I used to wrestle with this Bible passage and others like it. Is Jesus really asking us to give up everything – children, spouses, homes, money – in order to do his work? Is he saying we should give up our possessions and families as a spiritual investment to accomplish something more important in the end?
That is how it has often been read, to the detriment of individuals as well as their families.
But what if the idea of giving things up for God doesn’t mean proactive sacrifice but rather reactive sacrifice? Maybe this is not about sacrificing good things to make God happy – maybe it’s about being ready to lose them because we have chosen to follow him.
That would have been the reality for the first believers who Mark was writing to: they would loose respect and friends and family and maybe even their lives if they followed Jesus.
For many Jesus followers in today’s world, their faith has meant that their families and friends laugh at them or disown them. Or maybe they just ‘don’t go there’ with people close to them. In heavily Muslim or government-controlled countries Christians are frequently restricted, jailed, ostracized or denied means of making a living. Or killed. They don’t choose to give these things up for God but they understand that it might happen nevertheless.
Jesus isn’t asking you to sacrifice your family or give away all your money in order to make him happy; he’s simply reminding us that there may very well be a high cost to loving him.
Do success, pride, money, or some other temporary thing have a controlling place in my life?
Who or what am I sacrificing for my own reasons?
What might it cost me to be more like Jesus?
Am I willing to lose all for him?
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
(Serenity Prayer, Reinhold Neibuhr)