Mark 10:17-22 (Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
October 14, 2012
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson from Mark 10:
And as [Jesus] 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?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 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.'” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 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.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
No one likes to lack the things which he needs. It is not good to lack the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, and shelter. It should not be surprising that we do all we can to ensure that we and our families are not lacking these necessities. We are also very aware of the great need to make sure others in our community are not lacking these basic physical needs. We put a lot of effort and energy into making sure our physical needs, as well as those of others, are met. Oh that we would give the same attention and effort to making sure our spiritual needs, as well as the spiritual needs of others, are met!
“No one is good except the one God,” Jesus said. If only God is good, what does that mean for us? The man who had run up to Jesus and had fallen on his knees before Him assumed that Jesus was good, even as he himself was good, because “all these things I have kept from my youth!” In this man’s mind and understanding he had kept the commandments that Jesus had mentioned—You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. You shall not defraud. Honor your father and mother. Truly, this man was a very good boy indeed! And yet, he was missing something that he really needed.
This man had it made on the outside. We are told that he had many possessions. He didn’t have to worry about lacking food, clothing, or shelter. He was all set. And from all indications, he was a morally upstanding member of the community, having kept “all these things” since the days of his youth. But if we look closer at the text of God’s Word, we find out what this man is missing even before he does.
The man calls Jesus, “Good Teacher.” Jesus questions him as to why he would call Jesus good since only the one true God is good. It makes sense that Jesus was hoping for a response along the lines of, “Yes, only God is good and you are God-made-flesh, Immanuel, God-with-us.” But that kind of response does not come. The man sees Jesus as a good teacher so that one good person asks another good person about what he should do in order that he inherit eternal life. Jesus directs the man to the Second Table of the Law, commandments 4-10, the ones dealing with showing love to our neighbors. The man says he’s done them and leaves it there. He doesn’t mention to Jesus, “What about the First Table of the Law? What about the first three commandments which deal with showing love toward God?”
This man misses identifying Jesus as God. The man misses the commandments pertaining to the love of God. Jesus then says to him, “One thing you lack which you need.” What is that one thing? God. The man is wrapped up in what he has and what he does so that he is lacking in what God has and what God does. And that is where we find ourselves also—one thing you and I lack which we need.
This word for lack is used by St. Paul in Romans 3:23 when he writes by the power of the Holy Spirit, “For all have sinned and fall short (literally, ‘are lacking’) the glory of God.” We are in need of, in want of, that which we do not have. We are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. We lack the image of God in which Adam and Eve were created because we have fallen, along with Adam and Eve, into sin which totally corrupts us and totally separates us from God. We have lived as if God did not matter and as if we mattered most! Our Lord’s name we have not honored as we should. Our worship and our prayers have faltered. We have not let God’s love have its way with us, and so our love for others has failed. There are people we have hurt as well as people we have failed to help. We are indeed so soiled with sin so that even what appears to others to be good behavior is really like filthy clothes. (Is. 64:6) Even our keeping of the Second Table of the Law—honoring parents and other authorities, not losing our temper or injuring our neighbor by thoughts, words, and deeds, living a pure and decent life, not cheating or seeking to get what we haven’t earned, not gossiping or listening to rumors, not resenting or envying those who have what we don’t—isn’t perfect. We fall short. We miss the mark. We lack perfect love for God and for others. And we can’t rely on ourselves and on our possessions to make up for what sin causes us to lack. Again in Romans 3 we read, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight, since through the law come the knowledge of sin.” (3:20)
Left to ourselves, we cannot be good enough. We cannot be holy enough. We can’t do, say, or think the right things perfectly, all the time, and so inherit eternal life. We lack because we are sinners. We fail to love God; we fail to love others. But lest we become gloomy over this Word and go away full of sorrow as did the man, hear good news. Verse 21, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack which you need, as much as you have sell and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Come here. Follow me.’”
Jesus loved this man and wanted to fill his lack with what the man truly needed, Jesus, God Himself, Immanuel. But in order to fill the man with what he needed, Jesus had to empty from him what he didn’t need, the things that puffed him up and made him depend on himself—his sinful ego and his possessions. To fill us with Himself, Jesus must also empty from us that which fills us, the things which we do not need—our sin-filled egos, pride, and selfishness that make us depend on ourselves and love ourselves more than we love God and neighbor.
So Jesus, out of His great love for you and me, made Himself lacking. “He made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8) When Jesus had emptied Himself He filled Himself up with our sins. Jesus bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. The Lord laid on His only Son the sins of us all. (Is. 53:4, 6b) Jesus took away our sins from us and shed His blood on the cross and died our death in order to win our complete forgiveness. And with what does Jesus fill our void? Having taken away our sins, what does Jesus give us in exchange for our sins to fill us up so that we do not lack? His own righteousness and holiness! “For all have sinned and lack the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:23-24)
With our sins forgiven in the cleansing flood of the Savior’s blood, we no longer lack anything before God. We stand before the Lord justified—just as if I’d never sinned—by faith in Jesus. We stand covered in Christ’s own righteousness. This is what David had in mind, I’m sure, as he wrote these God-inspired words, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The Lord is our shepherd and we don’t lack for anything! Our sins are forgiven. We are assured of resurrection and the life everlasting! There is no doubt that, through faith in Christ alone, we inherit eternal life, the gift of the Savior to us. We are able, through the power of the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Loving our neighbors is how we respond to God’s love for us in Jesus. We share His love with others by meeting their earthly needs as well as filling the spiritual lack of Jesus in their lives. By sharing the good news message about Jesus who died and rose to win forgiveness and everlasting life for the world we invite them to know Jesus Christ by faith so that they too might receive His spiritual blessings and be filled with His love, forgiveness, and new life.
What a great God and Savior we have who fills our spiritual lack with His blessings of forgiveness and eternal life! God has saved us from our sins by giving up Jesus into death on a cross for us. Risen from the dead, Jesus has filled us up with His righteousness and love so that we might go and love others in His name, filling their greatest need by giving them Jesus and His Word of forgiveness and salvation. Oh that we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, would always give attention to our spiritual needs, being filled with God’s Word and Sacrament! Oh that we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, would share the blessings of Jesus’ forgiveness and eternal life as we give attention to the spiritual needs of our neighbors, filling them up with God’s Word of love and grace. Amen.