Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
The Episcopal Church »  |  The Diocese of Virginia

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost October 14, 2012

In the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, Indy must complete three tasks before he can find the Holy Grail and save his father’s life. For the third task,Indiana comes to an opening in a cliff and the Grail is in the next mountain. What does he do now? The clue says something about him stepping out in faith. We see him screw up his courage and finally step out into nothing. Under his feet, a rock path appears and he is able to cross the narrow bridge to the other side. He had to take this step of great faith, not knowing whether he would fall into a chasm or not, to find the “treasure from heaven”. 

Jesus is asking the rich man to do the same thing – to take a new step toward the kingdom life by selling all his possessions and giving the money to the poor, then following Jesus. If he does this, he will have treasure in heaven.

The rich man is not satisfied with his life. He has come running to Jesus and kneeling before him asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus gives him the commandments having to do with loving one’s neighbor and another command about not defrauding anyone – in other words, did he come by his wealth honestly. The rich man says he has kept the commandments, but something is obviously still missing. He wants a deeper relationship with God. 

But what Jesus asked was too much for him to take. He had many possessions, and he was enslaved by them. That is what Jesus saw when he looked at the man and loved him. He saw clear through him as he can see through us all. He could pinpoint the man’s weaknesses (Charles L. Campbell), the barriers between him and God, and he went straight to the heart of the matter, “Your dependence for making your life happy and secure is on your possessions. You do not depend on God for your life because you do not think you need to. You are well-respected in the community for you have done much good with what you do possess, but I am calling you to a greater good.”

The rich man knew what his wealth bought him, but he did not know about what this treasure in heaven might be. He was certain that selling all his possessions would be a major crisis in his life, and he just could not do it. So he went away grieving because the price was too high to pay for what Jesus offered, even for someone who was sincere in his faith. 

Jesus then talks to the disciples about the barrier that wealth places between God and humans. “It will be so hard for rich people to enter the kingdom of heaven, he says. Even if some of it is used for good, the temptation to rely on our money for security is so strong that few can resist it (James J. Thompson). Jesus gives an absurd comparison of a camel going through the eye of a needle to indicate just how hard it will be. The disciples are astonished because rich people were thought to be blessed by God. They supported the synagogues and the temple sacrifices and most assumed they were nearer to God because of it. That is why the disciples ask Jesus who can be saved. Of course, no mortal can be saved by his actions, even giving all his or her money away. Salvation is up to God. So Jesus tells them, “For mortals, it is impossible … but for God all things are possible.” Jesus offers hope for the rich man, even if he does not change his mind and sell his possessions to follow Jesus. 

In contrast to the rich man, the disciples have done the right thing. They have left everything to follow Jesus, and Jesus promises them rewards. They will have new families – the Christian family who does God’s will – and they will have persecutions. How can persecutions be a gift from God? Persecution tells the world that one is preaching the gospel of service to God and neighbor with all that one has for the sake of Jesus in a world centered on wealth and power. In the age to come, they will receive eternal life. 

We can say that this gospel is about divesting ourselves of whatever stands in the way of our relationship with God, whether it is an addiction or a thirst for power and control or resentments. That may be a way to look at it, but this gospel is really about wealth. That is what Jesus talks about to the rich man and the disciples. This is an uncomfortable gospel to hear, because even though we may rationalize it and say the rich man had much more than we do, the truth is, most of us who go to St. John’sare the rich of the world. We have far more money and possessions than those who live in third world countries. We are in a far better position to help our neighbors and sometimes do a worse job of it than people who have next to nothing. We all depend to some extent on our money as security, and that separates us from total dependence on God, keeping us from living full lives in the kingdom.

Even though Jesus and his disciples give us the example of complete poverty, I certainly do not want to follow the path the rich man was encouraged to take. I have his weakness, as do many of us. Yet we are certainly called to live a full life in the kingdom of God. If we are not called to give up all our possessions, and I believe that to be true about many of us, then what exactly are we called to do to have treasure in heaven? We are called to use our wealth to help our neighbor. Too much self-focus, which is what acquiring wealth can produce, keeps us from living God’s commandments in our everyday lives. We are called to live out of the abundance of God’s blessings and not out of a scarcity mentality. 


We certainly are in a place that reminds us of God’s abundant blessings for us. The treasures from heaven we all experience at Shrine Mont, from the natural beauty to our rest and re-creation to visiting with one another all remind us that God watches over us and gives us abundant gifts. Out of gratitude we return to God out of our abundance.The biblical standard for giving is the tithe – 10% of what we have we are to give back to God. Considering all that we have is God’s, that does not seem very much to ask, but it is very difficult for some people to give that amount and survive, so percentage giving is a good start. Recent studies have shown that the only way money makes people really happy is when they give it away (David Lose).St. John’sministries help our neighbors, near and far. They change and save lives. Giving some of our money to the church is one way to show our commitment to God, and to build our church for God’s mission in the world. The next time you think about your money, remember that it all belongs to God along with the rest of us and give generously to the ministries at St. John’s. 


       - Rev. Ann Barker


Works Cited
Charles L. Campbell, Feasting on the Word, Volume 4, Homiletical Perspective, p. 169
James J. Thompson, Feasting on the Word, Volume 4, Theological Perspective, p.166
David Lose, “Jesus the Rich Man and All of Us Lousy Stewards”, Blog Post 10/7/12