Un-Masking, sermon by Rev. Kinsey
I had so much fun at our Family Art Day yesterday. John and Jennifer and Amy had everything set up so perfect. Our after-school space sharing partners, PCO, had a half dozen high school girls ready to help. And Trudy and Michael, Betty and Oliver and Lisa, finished off the final details and even went, with masks on, to invite families over from Broman Park, across the alley. It was fun too, watching the kids making their masks, with stickers and sparkles, and feathers and markers. Each mask was individually their own, and they got to take it home with them and wear it for Halloween if they wanted to. And the Mural creation was really great too! Getting your hand painted and making your hand-print on the canvass was awesome. Parents, and adults did it too, getting all messy and silly, and getting to feel like a kid again, themselves!
I got to meet many of the families too, mostly from the neighborhood, and in talking with one father about the mask-making, he told me, in his own philosophical way, that not only do we wear masks at Halloween, but we all wear masks in our lives, year-round; that’s what we do, that’s who we are. And then he realized, as he said it to me, you could preach on that! I bet I could, I said, that’s good stuff. But, does it go with our appointed readings I wondered?!
Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that! But if you think about it, the man running up to Jesus with his urgent question about “life in the age to come,” was, in the course of their conversation, soon to be un-masked by Jesus.
Jesus plays it modestly with him, at first, claiming not to have any special knowledge or teaching as a Rabbi, reminding him simply of following the Commandments that everyone is called to follow: “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.”
Now, if you remember back to your confirmation lessons, or wherever you may have learned about the list of 10 Commandments, you may recognize that this is not the complete list. In fact there are just six that Jesus recites, and one of them is a curious re-writing, or paraphrase of the 10th, “you shall not defraud,” which we normally hear as, “you shall not covet.” But all six are from what is called the 2nd Table, or the Commandments having to do with our relationships with one another, human to human. And none are from the 1st Table, or our human relationship with God. So, it’s all about what we do.
The man responds immediately that, there’s no problem then, he’s kept all these commandments since he was young. He’s confident he has passed the test. And who are we to judge, maybe he has?! But Jesus, looking at him, "with a gaze that burrows into his soul," and also with an intuition guided by "parental affection" (Joel Markus), loved him intently, and said, “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.” Jesus un-masks him, completely!
But this saddens the rich man. Remember how at first he came with such hope and lightness, kneeling before, Rabbi Jesus. And now, “he was shocked and went away grieving,” it says, “for he had many possessions.” The man with everything, lacks one important thing that is blocking his way to the new age, says Jesus. For this man, at least, it’s his riches, and how he got them. Some people, of course, will need to have, some possessions, in Jesus’ realm of God. We know, for example, when he sends the disciples out 2 x 2, he expects that they will be housed and fed by those who receive them – by those who own a home and have a refrigerator and well-stocked pantry, to share from. So, not everyone is supposed to sell all that they have.
So why is this mans’ possessions in particular, keeping him from following Jesus? The key may lie in the Commandment Jesus re-wrote, “you shall not defraud,” which had a rather specific reference for the rich of Jesus’ day – and our own – that is, how some become rich, by defrauding others. The disciples knew the perils of their subsistence living as fishers and farmers, and how the rich lenders would take advantage of them, keeping them in their poverty. Today, for example, we have seen how, in the Great Recession, the richest bankers, by deliberately gambling on the Stock Market, tanked the economy and defrauded many of their pensions and homes, for their own profit.
No doubt, Jesus knows the man is not telling the whole truth about following the Ten Commandments. And yet, he did love him for his quest, and offered him a way out of his dilemma. Come and follow me, he told him.
“Discipleship begins,” as New Testament scholar Katherine Grieb says, “when the one thing that enslaves us is renounced, and all its claims upon us are dissolved.” (Katherine Grieb, CC: 10/7/2009)
Jesus de-masked the rich man, seeing him clearly for who he was. And Jesus sees us clearly and fully for who we are. We cannot find a mask cute enough, or scary enough, or deceptive enough, that Jesus cannot see through, for what it is. We all wear masks. Sometimes we have to, just to get through the day. But the masks we wear may be best at fooling ourselves, more than others.
There’s one more clue, to understand the loving gaze of Jesus as an un-masking of the rich man. The clue is found in the Parable of the Sower, the first and longest parable of Jesus in Mark’s gospel, and how the rich man is a classic example of the seed sown among the thorns. When Jesus interprets the Parable of the Sower to the disciples, he tells them that, the seeds “sown among the thorns… are the ones who hear the word, but, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing.”
The rich man hears the word from Jesus, but the lure of wealth and desire for more possessions, chokes it out, and it cannot grow. At least not that day!
Jesus turns his gaze on his disciples then, looking at them lovingly, and straight in the eye. “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus tells them. They are his followers, but this is perplexing to them… and they were greatly astounded, saying to one another, “Then who can be saved?” They probably see Riches and Possessions as a blessing from God, which would not be unusual in that day and age, and would explain their shocked reaction to Jesus’s harsh words about the rich not being able to enter, “life in the age to come.”
But Jesus reverses what we normally conceive as truth: “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first,” he told them, just as we saw when the rich man’s initial joy and excitement turned to sadness, as he walked away, unable to follow Jesus.
But Jesus looks intently at them again, and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Another reversal!
None of us can earn our way to, life in the age to come, any more than a blessed rich man, or the very followers of Jesus, can. We all wear masks in an attempt to hide our coveting from our friends, and family, and neighbors, and perhaps especially from our own eyes. We all have fallen short of the glory of God.
But the good news is: nothing is impossible with God. God can and does reverse the impossible. For God, all things are possible. God alone is good -- and Jesus, insofar as he reveals God.
Perhaps then, it is even possible to live into the realm of God, right now, learning to shed our masks; learning not to covet or defraud, but to share, and find the true treasure of life – which is trusting in the saving promise of God’s open possibilities.
Perhaps, even the rich man came back, later on, having sold his possessions to give to the poor, and desiring now to follow Jesus, his good teacher.