Ouch! The Word of God. Hebrews 4:12-16 Mark 10:17-31
“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.”
Years ago, before I had Eleanor, when I was moving into a flat, a friend of mine gave me this knife (It's a very sharp, broad-bladed kitchen knife). She had 2 young children and she was terrified that one of them would get their hands on it, so she wanted to get it out of the house and gave it to me. Perhaps I’m not such a caring mum, or maybe it’s the difference between having one and having two to look after, but all through having Eleanor as a baby and then a toddler and now as a very sensible teen-ager, I have kept this knife. Yes, it’s sharp, yes it’s a bit scary, but it’s a really useful knife – especially for cutting meat – and I’ve never yet hurt myself with it, because I’m always really careful how I use it and it always goes back in this cardboard sleeve before it goes back in the drawer.
The letter to the Hebrews warns us that the Word of God is like this scarily sharp blade. What's important is how you handle it.
If you use God's word as a weapon to attack others, the chances are you'll get caught yourself and find you are the victim of its sharp edge.
At the same time if we are forgetful of the Word (the equivalent of sticking it, uncovered, in a drawer and trying to forget about it) it can damage us as we try to go about our lives and suddenly come upon it, unaware.
What we need to do is handle it with respect and care and use it as a useful tool where a little 'trimming' is needed in our lives.
So to the gospel.
The young man recognizes that Jesus is the Good Teacher who can answer the most vital question: ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’
Firstly Jesus puts the young man’s focus back onto God… only God is good. Maybe he could have stopped the conversation right there – “you ask ‘what must I do?’ Remember how good God is, and stop trying to earn God’s love”.
But Jesus wants to help this young man…so he points out ‘You know the commandments’ – better than that, this young man has actually kept the commandments.
Then comes the bad news ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’
We might well understand why the young man, who is rich, goes away grieving. We might wonder, though, why Jesus is so harsh on this young man who, after all, has broken no commandments. It seems like Jesus is sticking the knife in this young man’s ribs – but actually Jesus is wielding it more like a surgeon’s scalpel – to help, not to harm. Mark is keen that we realize why Jesus speaks like this : his gospel tells us:
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own…’. “
Jesus wants to help this man.
Why would someone who kept all the commandments worry about inheriting eternal life - surely he knows that he is right with God – he has kept all the laws! But he clearly is worried, as he wants to ask Jesus the question of what more he needs to dd. It seems he wants to add eternal life to the already large pile of his possessions and accomplishments.
Jesus wants him to find the happiness which he lacks, to understand that there is nothing that can separate him from God’s love… except everything he owns and his attitude to it.
Everything. Can Jesus really mean him to get rid of everything?
the young man’s reaction shows that Jesus has hit the nail on the head. His possessions or his pride in being rich, or his comfort, mean more to him than being right with God – and having asked Jesus what he should do he finds cannot do it.
How is the sharpness of the Word challenging us? What do we need to trim away? Perhaps not just our possessions like this rich young man, but our attitudes to our possessions, or to the law, or to other people? Can we think of one thing we could not possibly do if Jesus asked us? If Jesus said “One thing you lack go and…” what would it most grieve you to hear? (pause to allow people to think). Perhaps it is that very thing which is getting between you and God – preventing you from realizing fully God’s love for you.
As God’s love shown in Jesus comes to you in this bread & wine, open your hands to receive and pray for the wisdom to let go of anything that comes between you & God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.