Our Hearts Follow our Riches, Generosity Frees Us 14 October, 2018
Reading: Mark 10:17-31
I have it on really good authority that if you want to catch an Indian monkey you cut a small hole in a sturdy box then, inside the box, you put a tasty nut. The hole you make just large enough for the monkey to put its hand through, but once it closes its monkey fist around the nut it can’t pull it out. Then it has two choices. It can hold tight to the nut or it can let go. If it holds on tight, and 9 out of 10 monkeys do, then it is trapped and can’t go free.
In the Gospel Jesus is approached not by an Indian monkey but by a rich man. But we will discover that they have a lot in common. This man has kept the Ten Commandments but feels that there must be more to it. Jesus doesn’t judge him, rather he loves him (verse 21). But he does say, “There’s one thing left for you to do. Sell what you have and give it to the poor and come and follow me.” I really like the way the Message version puts what happens next. “The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear and he walked off with a heavy heart because he was holding on tight to a lot of things and not about to let go.”
In other words the wealth, the treasures, the stuff that this man owns, he is holding on to very tight just like the Indian monkey and it has trapped him.
In Jesus’ day, much as in our own, wealth was seen as a blessing from God, and the poor were seen as cursed.
So the disciples are really confused by Jesus reaction to this man. Surely he has been blessed by God. Why is Jesus turning him away. Jesus was turning their world upside down, and not for the first time.
Today’s Gospel story matches Jesus words in Matthew’s Gospel “Have a care,” he urges them, “for your heart will always be where your riches are.”
In her hymn, “Food and Drink, Things Obsess,” New Zealander Shirley Murray writes:
Food and drink, things obsess,
drug us to false happiness.
What we keep, what we give,
tells the truth of how we live,
Jesus said have a care,
your hearts will always be where your riches are,
where your riches are.
This is all very well I can hear you saying to yourself. But I’m not rich. Well, wealth is relative. The more wealth you have the more relatives you discover you have!
You can learn a lot by reading the posters in people’s loos. My friend has this on the wall of the tiny room:
If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep you are richer than 75% of the world.
If you have money in the bank, your wallet, your purse, and some spare change you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.
If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the agony of imprisonment or torture, or the horrible pangs of starvation you are luckier than 500 million people alive and suffering.
If you can read this message you are more fortunate than billions of people in the world who cannot read it at all.
In other words, you and I are the world’s rich. You and I are the most blessed people in our world.
So what is the answer? Are we to be stuck forever wandering around the mall looking for more nuts to put our monkey hands around?
If I could take the liberty of summing up all of Jesus teaching about wealth and stuff, and he had a lot to say on the topic, it would be this. “Love people and use things.” Our culture urges us to love things and use people, Jesus message is that we find joy in loving people and using things.
But what does that look like in real life and what are its consequences?.
Stephanie Holladay wrote: “Up until December 2015 I didn’t know much about kidney disease, dialysis or transplants. My hometown newspaper ran an article about a woman searching for a kidney transplant and several of her coworkers had begun testing to see if they were a match. Really? An unrelated person can donate a kidney to someone? The thought had never crossed my mind.
I was deeply touched by her story and will to survive and I decided to pursue kidney donation but I did have some fears along the way. Would there be a scar? Yes. Would I have to quit working? For a time, yes—the body needs to heal. “The only thing you can’t do after donating a kidney is donate a kidney,” the nurse told me.
On April 1 I got a very exciting phone call. Until then I had left occasional messages or questions on her Facebook page but we didn’t know each other. Soon she received the good news that we were approved for a transplant. What I didn’t expect caught me by surprise. I was expecting her to be pleased. After all she was no longer trapped in dialysis and was free to live her life and a much longer life too. What I wasn’t expecting was the happiness it brought me. I wept for the sheer joy of being able to help someone. Even someone I didn’t know. For me there were tears of joy that I had given the gift of life. The day of the transplant May 9, 2016 was, for me, one of the happiest days of my life.
No money changed hands but the joy of knowing I had helped another human being to a fuller more enjoyable life was enough for me.
Generosity, generosity of spirit, generosity of heart. What begins in compassion ends in generosity, generosity with what we have and what we have been given whether it’s money or health or time or skills. This is the key to freedom. We don’t, of course, have to give our kidneys away to know the joy of generosity. Remember Jesus words from a few weeks ago, “Just a cup of water given in my name is enough.” Or remember the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “You don’t have to do great things, but small things with great love.”
I believe this congregation is very generous both as individuals and as a parish. The good news is that when we are generous with what God has given us then we are no longer monkeys with our hands caught in a box. Rather we have learned to let go and know the joy and freedom of God’s kingdom.
Let us pray:
Jesus you teach us with such clarity
Help us to not love money and use people
Rather may we love people and use money
And share with compassion and generosity all you have given us.
In your name we pray. Amen.