20th Sunday after Pentecost – St. Mark 10:17-22
When we read our Gospel text of the man who recognizes Jesus and who wants to follow Him, but who at the end walks away very sad when Jesus tells him to sell all he has, we are left with a burning question: why not both?
Why can the man not keep his many possessions and follow Jesus?
Is that not what you do?
Have you sold everything in your possession and given it to the poor? Have you liquidated your land and cattle and machinery and cars and books and electronics and toys and jewelry and knick-knacks? Have you cashed in your insurance policies and savings bonds? Have you closed your bank accounts? Have you taken all this money and divided it between LCMS World Relief & Human Care and Orphan Grain Train and Lutheran Hour Ministries and the local food bank?
I seriously doubt any of you did any of that this past week, and I can assure you that I did not do that either; so why does the man in our text need to do so?
The question that this text leaves us with is why can’t the man be faithful to God and keep his stuff? Is he not already faithful when he answers Jesus that he is keeping the commandments?
And the reason we want that question answered is because when you look around, do you not also have a lot of stuff that you would like to keep for as long as you can? And would you not also consider yourself faithful to God? What, if anything, sets you apart from the man in our Gospel text?
Yet Jesus seems to disagree with our assessment of the situation, just as He disagrees with the man’s definition of keeping the Law. So Jesus tells him to go and sell it all, and give it to the poor.
And we ask ourselves again: why not both?
Certainly the man walked away asking that. Why could he not keep his many possessions and follow Jesus? Could he not easily distinguish between the things he owned and the Savior whom he followed? Could he not look at Jesus and realize that this is the true and living God, while the stuff he owned was dead and lifeless, and only temporary?
When it came down to it, when he had to make a choice, would it not be reasonable that he would choose the treasures of heaven over the treasures of earth?
It would be easy for you would it not? Which would you rather have: a bank account that requires your own personal bank teller, or the news that your mountain of sins committed in obtaining that money need to be repented of? Would you rather have the latest electronic device, or would you rather have the seemingly bland body and blood of Christ? Would you rather be reminded of your baptism, or sleep in a little longer before the big games start?
When it came down to it, when you have to make a choice, would it not be reasonable that you would choose the treasures of heaven over the treasures of earth?
The answer in our text is no, the man walks away sorrowful for he had many possessions. The man in our text would rather have his earthly treasure than the assurance of a heavenly treasure.
Is that not what you desire as well?
Is that not why we approach this text and ask why not both? Are we not trying to protect those precious idols that we keep in our homes?
It seems so easy to say that yes, I will follow Jesus with all my heart, with all my body and with all my soul; and I will do so in the comforts of my home, with my many great and wonderful things.
And you can certainly be a faithful follower of Christ by doing so.
Or you can be like the man in our text, and walk away from Christ, choosing those idols over and above the Son of the living God who stands before you.
Today, the words of Joshua 24 came to bear for this man, choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
The man walked away, as have many before and many since, choosing instead to serve the great possessions that he had in his midst.
Which will you choose?
If today your answer is that you will serve the things of this world as opposed to the God of heaven and earth; than yes, you should go home and sell all that you have and give the money to the poor; and I can provide you with a list of charities that would be good and worthwhile to direct your money to.
If instead your answer is that you will serve the Lord God almighty, well and good. But be prepared that a day will come when you may have those many possessions stripped from you, your house and land burned, your money confiscated, and you will be among the poor waiting for the generosity of others.
Earthly treasures are fleeting indeed, both for the believer and for the unbeliever.
But one treasure is not temporary in the least: it is the treasure of heaven. The treasure secured for you not with gold or silver, but with the holy and precious blood of Christ shed for you on the cross of Calvary.
The treasure of life eternal.
What makes you worthy of such a gift?
Nothing, except for one little note in our text that applies to the man and to you.
Jesus looked at the man and he loved him.
Jesus dies for the man and his sin of clinging to his earthly treasure; just as Jesus dies for your sin of clinging to your earthly treasure.
Jesus looks at you and He loves you.
He loves you so much that He turned away from the crown and thrones and glory that were properly ascribed to Him in heaven and He came to earth to be humiliated by being born, by living as a common man, by suffering and by dying.
Jesus loves you so much, that He turned away from His heavenly treasure, so that you might one day receive your own heavenly treasure.
And this heavenly treasure far surpasses any earthly treasure you may have in your possession or that you may chase after. This treasure comes with the crown of eternal life; it comes with the feast that never ends; it comes with the glory and honor and splendor and majesty not even given to the highest and most powerful among us on earth; it comes with far more than you could ever obtain on earth; and it is shared with all your brothers and sisters in the faith.
This heavenly treasure puts all earthly treasures to shame.
The greatest possession you have is not some historic document or fancy car; it is not the latest electronic gadget, or a piece of fancy jewelry. The greatest possession you have, is your baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. The greatest possession you have is your faith in Christ. The greatest possession you have, is the body and blood of Christ given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
All of that stood before the man in our text, and he turned around and went back to some worthless dust collectors.
That is what earthly treasures are when compared to the treasure of Christ: they are worthless dust collectors.
So the answer to our question of why not both, is why would you ever want both?
You have Christ, and that is the greatest possession of all, both in heaven and on earth.