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Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Much of our modern language owes its origins to the Bible. The following are just a few of the well known sayings that are derived from passages in the Bible. “The Blind Leading the Blind”, “By the Skin of Your Teeth”, “Drop in a Bucket”, and “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry”. 

Another well known quote, “Money is the root of all evil”, also has its origins in the Bible. It comes from verse 10 of chapter of 6 of Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, which says, ‘For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.’ 

Paul’s sentiment is one that would seem to be shared by Jesus, because in today’s passage from Mark’s Gospel, although he doesn’t mention specific types of evil that are caused by money–acts such as murder and stealing, or thoughts and feelings of jealousy and envy–Jesus does concentrate on how a focus on money, can lead us away from potential joy andfreedom, and instead bring us to a place of disappointment and sadness.

The example that Jesus uses is the ‘Parable of the Rich Man’, which is the story of a wealthy man, who enthusiastically approaches Jesus, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life, which can also be understood to mean gain entry to the Kingdom of God. In response, Jesus begins to list the commandments, citing those commandments that we might call the “social commandments”, those that relate primarily to one’s neighbour. The man, who clearly has great respect for Jesus, answers that he has kept these commandments all his life.

But despite having followed the commandments, there is still something clearly missing in this man’s life. He has everything he could possibly want in terms of material possessions, but he is not satisfied or fulfilled. And this is the message that was behind so much of the preaching and teaching of Jesus. 

The commandments formed part of the Torah, the law which the Jewish people were required to follow and uphold if they wanted to be in a right relationship with God. But Jesus was teaching them that there was more to it than that. Having compassion for one’s fellow human being, was also essential to being in a right relationship with God.

So Jesus instructs the rich man that even though he has followed the commandments, there is one thing that he still lacks: he should sell all that he owns and give the money to the poor. Naturally the man is shocked! He a lot of possessions, which he obviously places great value on, and he can’t bring himself to sell them. So the man goes away from Jesus, feeling sad and disappointed. 

He had the opportunity to know joy and freedom in the loving companionship of Jesus, but he wasn’t prepared to sacrifice the financial security that his possessions provided him with, in order to obtain that joy and freedom. He wasn’t prepared to put his trust, or his faith, in Jesus, over his trust in human resources, that is in money.

Jesus then takes the opportunity to explain to his disciples the difficulty that wealth creates for entrance into the kingdom of God. This comes as something of a shock to the disciples, because in Jesus’ day, wealth was considered to be a sign of God’s blessings or favour. This prompts the disciples to ask that if the wealthy can’t be saved, that is, if they can’t enter the kingdom of God, then who can?

This question enables Jesus to drive home the fundamental truth. He answers that human resources alone are not enough. It is God who gives entry to the kingdom as a gift to human beings. And God will also give human beings the capacity to cope with the costly lifestyle that comes with following Jesus. Jesus reassures the disciples that if they put their trust in God, then God will provide them with everything they need, both in this age, and in the age to come.

The ‘Parable of the Rich Man’ shows us that being fixated on money can leave us feeling sad and disappointed. Modern day research backs this up. Research published in the Harvard Business Review, one of the most respected publications in the world, clearly demonstrates a link between a fixation with money and unhappiness. 

The research shows that wealth appears to make people less generous, with researchers discovering that rich people give proportionally less of their income to charitable causes. Wealthier people are more isolated, too–which has a negative effect on happiness. Wealth promotes isolation because in acquiring more money people tend to keep their distance from others. They might not need people in the same way that they did before they acquired their wealth. As people become wealthier, they value independence more and social connections less.

And that has key implications for personal happiness. Results from a Notre Dame study found that generosity indicators—such as giving money, volunteering and being available to friends—were highly correlated with happiness. Similarly, generosity had a positive effect on happiness in 93% of 136 countries studied. So having money and possessions isn’t necessarily going to make us happy.

But we shouldn’t interpret today’s passage from Mark’s Gospel as meaning that we must sell everything that we own and give the money to the poor if we want to enter the kingdom of God. Rather, we should think of it in terms of the need for us to be more aware of our neighbours, and be more  compassionate with them. And we should rely more  on our relationship with God, than on our own human resources.

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