Let me reassure you that this does not mean I have only washed twice in 16 weeks but the chance to relax in the bath with a good book is rare. The other day, however, an opportunity arose. As I relaxed and flicked through the Sunday paper two stories jumped out at me. The first was about a small but growing movement amongst students who were pledging to live on 90% of their salary for their working lives giving the rest away. If they were Christians then I would consider that to be normal but this is not coming from a faith group but people who want to commit their lives to making a difference (www.givingwhatwecan.org).
The second article was about the possibility that within a few years, 50% of families in the UK will only have one child. The article explored the reasons for this interviewing different people. Interestingly, many of them cited the expense and time cost involved and that whilst they loved being parents having a second child would impact their standard of living just that little bit too much…
Two groups of people that couldn’t be more different.
This month we’re looking at Mark chapter 10 where we find Mark doing an interesting ‘compare and contrast’ thing with five sets of people. What is he telling us about who Jesus is calling us to be?
- The Pharisees (vv1-12) – a group that took the pursuit of holiness very seriously and didn’t think Jesus did so they tried to trap him and expose him as someone who doesn’t take sin that seriously. Jesus responds by giving a more strict approach to a particular situation than the Pharisees were likely to be expecting. You see Jesus takes sin and holiness very seriously indeed. It was the Pharisees not Jesus who had lost sight of what holiness really was.
- Children (vv13-16) – a group that culturally should be kept out of the way and certainly shouldn’t be interrupting the adults. Rather than shooing them away Jesus sees something in them that he holds out as an example. Mark doesn’t spell it out but uses the contrast with the next group to explain it…
- The Rich (vv17-31) – The disciples view the rich as their culture would have – they were considered to be blessed by God as they had prospered. Jesus sees them rather differently. You see, the rich don’t have to rely upon anyone. They are strong and secure. Not at all like children. Children are totally dependent upon the one caring for them. Children are aware of their helplessness and don’t despise it or try to hide it but go with it. The disciples are stunned when Jesus says ‘how hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God‘ but in Jesus’s eyes the rich are to be pitied as he understands that money makes us think we are doing ok for ourselves and we don’t need anyone… including God. And that makes us slow to hear Him and often even slower to obey and live the radical lives that are on offer within the Kingdom of God.
- The Disciples (vv35-45) – James and John quietly slide up to Jesus and try to guarantee their position as the highest amongst the 12. The other disciples are understandably put out by this but what does Jesus think? He explains that greatness in the Kingdom of God looks like slavery for the benefit of others. Money, recognition, status, control over others, none of that is an indicator of success. Even in the last few weeks this is something that has very much been on my mind and I cannot stress how easy it is to slip into the pursuit and security of being in control of others rather than being their servant. Success is spending ourselves in a bid that those around us thrive within the Kingdom, not to be top of the pile.
- Blind Bartimaeus (vv46-52) – In cultural terms he was probably the lowest of them all. He had no money, was an outcast and presumed (because of his blindness) to have been a terrible sinner. Yet he is the one who is ‘child like’. He knows he is helpless to change his blindness. He isn’t put off when others dismiss him and when Jesus sees him, calls him and heals him, he immediately follows Jesus because he is a man of faith, not in his status or money as he had none, but in the one who saves.
And then there’s Jesus.
In the midst of all the others with their misunderstandings and mess he’s there giving the answer to the disciples despairing question ‘Who then can be saved?’ (v26). It is because Jesus is prepared to give literally every last breath for all of the other groups and because of Jesus’ faithfulness, unswerving commitment to God and his unfaltering love for people that he becomes the answer – ‘with man this is impossible but not with God; all things are possible with God.’ (vv26-27).
As disciples we are called to imitate Jesus not the world around us. We are called, and through his Spirit enabled, to be people who refuse to seek control over others or status through recognition or money.
We choose to love, serve and be committed to Him and those He loves.
Giving our money away is important because it loosens its grip on our hearts.
Giving our lives away is really hard and requires consideration and discussion as to what that will look like for each of us.
Pursuing holiness is important because then people can look at our lives and see the reflection of God in us. It’s a life’s work and it’s demanding. But that’s the call of discipleship and as we’ve said so many times before, we do it together in His strength.
May your 2015 see you take strides closer to Jesus and to one another.