Gift from the Heart

May 13, 2018/Covenant Living: Give Cheerfully

Mark 10:17-27; 12:41-44/2 Corinthians 9:6-8


He had worked hard to get to this place in life.  It had not been easy – sometimes it had been a real struggle.  When the other kids were goofing off in class, he sat listening intently, taking notes, asking questions.  You probably went to school with someone like him – the person whose notes you always asked to borrow before the big test.  His grades were excellent, and that despite the afternoons and weekends spent working in a little shop to earn pocket money.  By the time he was heading away to college, he was buying his own clothes, keeping his old model car running, and spending money on his family rather than having them spend money on him.

At college, he continued to excel.  He studied business and economics and communications.  And when he graduated, he focused his energy full time on the little business he had launched while just a sophomore.  He hit the market with just the right product at just the right moment, and his company provided a good living for his employees while making him a very wealthy man.

With all of his wealth and authority, he did not forget his parents’ teachings.  He was successful, but he also was a rule follower.  He treated his employees fairly.  He didn’t try to gouge his suppliers for rock-bottom prices, and he didn’t cheat his customers.  He took care of his parents, visiting them regularly and maintaining their house.  He was faithful to his wife – he didn’t fool around on the many business trips he took.  He had a good life, and he was satisfied with it, never begrudging his neighbors their own success.

But as the years rolled past, there still was this little niggling thought, this worry that came to him sometimes in the middle of the night when he couldn’t sleep.  Was there more?  Was there something more he should be doing?  Was there something more God required of him?  When he heard about the teacher, Jesus, about all the amazing things he was doing and about his teachings, he decided maybe this Jesus could answer his question.  Maybe then, he could sleep.

“What must I do, Jesus, to inherit eternal life?”

Well, of course, the teacher first went through a litany of the commandments, but he knew that wasn’t it.  “I have kept all these since my youth,” he told Jesus.  But he wasn’t prepared for what the teacher said next.  “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Go.  Sell.  Give.  Come.  Follow.

He was heartbroken.  When he looked in Jesus’ eyes, he could see the love there.  But how could Jesus ask these things of him?  How could he expect him to just give it all up and walk away from his business, his responsibilities, his life?

***

She had been alone for many years.  Her husband’s death left her barely holding onto the home they had shared.  She had managed to raise their children and send them on their way, and now she had only herself to worry about.  And she did worry.  Food seemed to cost more every day.  There were taxes to pay, if she was to keep the government from taking over her small house.  All of the strain had carved deep grooves into the skin of her face.

She dressed carefully that morning, checking her Sabbath dress for holes or tears and carefully mending any damage.  She cleaned the week’s dust from her shoes and tucked her hair underneath her scarf.  Opening her purse, she eyed the two copper coins lying deep inside – the last of her money.  Frowning, she secured it tightly and made her way slowly to the temple.

She was embarrassed as she walked up the collection box.  She saw what some of the others were giving.  They were dropping fistfuls of money into the box – enough to solve all of her worries for months.  She tucked her chin to her chest and, looking neither left nor right, carefully deposited her two coins, hoping the paper money would keep them from clinking against the boxes’ sides and revealing the small size of her contribution.

***

It surprises some people to learn that Jesus talked about money more than anything else.  But Jesus recognized that money held tremendous power over people.  A lot of money gave people a sense of authority and control.  A lack of money made people feel anxious and afraid.

Take that well-to-do young man.  Hearing him describe how carefully he had kept the commandments – even since his youth! – Jesus loved him.  He loved him for his dedication.  He loved him for his desire to please God.  But he didn’t seem surprised when this young man turned away from him in sorrow.  “It’s hard for rich people to get into God’s kingdom!” he told his disciples (Mark 10:23, CEB).

“In love, Jesus calls; and in calling, he makes a radical demand.”  Go.  Sell.  Give.  Come.  Follow.  The man responds “not by following, but by going away. … This negative outcome … attests the special power of possessions to hinder Christian discipleship.”[1]  Jesus’ challenge not only seems radical, it seems unreasonable.  How could Jesus expect someone to simply walk away from everything?

Jesus’ call to this young man reveals the true nature of the commandments.  Even as this man had obeyed the letter of the law, he had neglected the heart of the law.  Theologian Karl Barth writes:

For it is himself that all the commandments demand … That he should be something – the covenant partner of God – is what all the commandments demand when they claim both what he does and what he does not do. … What he lacks is now revealed.  He is not the covenant-partner of God.  He does not love his neighbor.  He does not belong to Jesus. … As long as he has great possessions, they have him, and as long as they have him, God cannot and will not have him.

What he lacks is that love to the neighbor which is the meaning of the commandments of the second table.  What they require of him is that he should not only not do what they forbid, but do something definite.

What has he to give his neighbor in proportion to what God has given him and still gives him?  But let him give this little as a small acknowledgement of what he has himself received.[2]

“How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” Jesus told his disciples.  “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”  The young man wanted to know: Teacher, must I do?  “Yet all we can do is not enough to achieve the life we seek.  Such life and wholeness is possible only for God, and we can receive it only as gift.”[3]

The disciples were astonished at Jesus’ teaching.  “Though they were not wealthy, they belonged to a culture whose evaluation of wealth was fundamentally challenged by the teaching of Jesus.  They were profoundly shaken.”[4]  As are we.  “Jesus looks intently at us and continues quietly to affirm that life is to be had not by accumulating things, but by disencumbering ourselves. ,.. This text proclaims the good news that the way to be really rich is to die to wealth.”[5]

The story of the rich young man stands in stark contrast to that of the widow.  Jesus sat opposite the treasury and watched intently as rich people put large sums of money into the collection box.  But his heart was moved by the actions of a poor widow.  Her “action is praiseworthy because out of her poverty and without reservation she gave her whole living to God.  But more is meant here.  Her gift foreshadows the one Jesus is about to make: his very life.”[6]  “Jesus points to this woman … to direct his disciples toward her faith that is far greater than” that of the religious leaders.  She gives to God “‘that which is God’s,’ that is, her whole life.  Her outward piety is completely consistent with her inward surrender.”[7]

It is about our hearts that Jesus is concerned.  Barth notes, “To love is to do that which is ‘better than to receive’ (Acts 20:35), namely, to give. … According to the example of God himself love is the action of giving. … The one who loves gives.”[8]  Or in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 6:7).  Give from your heart.

[1] Lamar Williamson Jr., Interpretation: Mark, 183

[2] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.2, 617, 618, 620

[3] Williamson, 185

[4] Ibid., 186

[5] Ibid., 188

[6] Ibid., 234

[7] Gary W. Charles, “So Who’s in Charge Around Here?”, Preaching Mark in Two Voices, 199

[8] Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.2, 786

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