This episode in the Gospel of Mark this morning could go down as one of the great “Unsolved Mysteries” of the New Testament.
That’s because we never hear what happened to the rich young man.
We never hear the end of his story… never find out what he did … whether or not he “sold everything” and “gave it to the poor” and “followed Jesus.”
Now, to be honest, wouldn’t we tend to assume that this rich young man just couldn’t bring himself to give up and give away all of his stuff and belongings?
He “turns away sad” the text says “for he had many riches.”
And so, we very quickly just write him off, as one who forever rejected Jesus, and forever thereafter kept all of his wealth and riches to himself.
We quickly pigeon-hole him, cast him in stone, stereo-type him.
Am I right?
But are we being too hasty in dismissing this rich young man, too narrow in our imagination of him?
Because, who knows? Later on, he could’ve very well had a change of heart.
The fact is: the Gospel writer Mark leaves the story of the rich young man completely open-ended.
And I think it’s a way of reminding us that our lives, too, are always open-ended…
…always full of possibilities, options and choices …
…always expansive, adventurous, and rich with possibility and hope…
…never needing to follow a predictable, narrow, and pre-determined outcome.
What is even more remarkable from the scriptures this morning, is that God remains open-ended toward us, believing in us, hoping in the endless possibilities in us, waiting to be surprised by us … even when we remain closed, negative, and restricted.
Both the Psalmist and Job seem closed-hearted and shrouded in utter despair, hopelessness, anxiety, loneliness, and with this horrible sense of God’s absence.
We get it. We know those feelings.
… where we see the world and others in very narrow terms of what they are not, rather than what they are.
The remarkable thing, though, is that God remains open toward us.
God didn’t condemn Job or the Psalmist for having fearful, despairing, un-trusting thoughts.
God didn’t condemn the disciple Peter for denying Jesus three times before his crucifixion.
And God in Christ didn’t condemn the rich young man for his over-attachment to “stuff”.
Remember, the text says that Jesus “looked at the man, and loved him.”
Jesus looks upon each one of us, into our eyes, and loves us.
And this encounter with pure grace and mercy changes us …
…. opening our hearts …. expanding our view of the world and other people … helping us see that `abundant life’ is found not by hoarding as much to oneself as possible, but by the exact opposite: by giving up and giving away as much as possible for the well-being and life of others.
We become more open-hearted, expansive in our world view.
We are changed.
Baseball is on our minds these days. No doubt.
So let me introduce to you a baseball great. His name is Grant Desme.
Back in 2009 he was a rising star in American baseball.
In the minor league season of 2009 he hit 31 homeruns, and was voted the league’s Most Valuable Player.
He was drafted by the Oakland A’s in the second round, and signed for a yearly salary of $560,000 CD.
Grant was living a life which many young men would only dream about.
But just two months after signing the contract, Grant announced he was quitting. Quitting baseball. Getting out of all of it.
People were stunned.
He was quitting, not because he hated baseball – he loved the game since he was four – but because he wanted something else, something more.
He wanted to become a priest.
In the fall of 2010, he entered St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, about 30 kms south of Los Angeles.
Grant was ordained a priest, joined the abbey becoming a monk, and embraced the life of poverty, celibacy and obedience:
… getting up at five every morning to pray,
… chanting the Mass,
… digging trenches, mopping floors, mowing lawns and planting gardens,
… observing the “Great Silence” by not speaking for hours at a time.
And at the end of each day, he’d retire to a small room with a single bed, nightstand and sink.
He owned nothing.
Grant even changed his name to Matthew, Brother Matthew, after the disciple Matthew whom Jesus called, Matthew the rich tax collector, who dropped everything, gave up everything, to follow Jesus.
Grant also dropped everything, gave up everything, to follow Jesus.
People in the baseball world will say this: that what Grant did, was unheard of, unthinkable, totally unpredictable.
Players with his kind of talent, with his kind of amazing promise for a successful and wealthy career in baseball simply don’t do what he did. They just don’t.
What “unthinkable” thing would you do, for the love of God, for the well-being of the world, to follow Jesus?
In San Francisco stands a church – St. Gregory’s Episcopalian Church – that is well known for its rich, liturgical creativity, traditions and music life.
It is also well known for its enormous “Food Pantry” (a version of our Canadian “food bank”).
Every Friday afternoon, parishioners gather to distribute nine tons of fresh vegetables, breads, meats etc. to fifteen hundred people.
And as patrons of the Food Pantry go around picking up what they need, musicians playing accordions, violins, flutes, and guitars wander around entertaining everyone.
Fresh flowers decorate the space, making things look clean and presentable.
And, what’s particularly interesting is that the Food Pantry – with all its tables, stalls and booths – is set up in the exact same space, on the exact same floor, the same “sacred space” where the faith community of St. Gregory gathers for worship on Sunday morning,
…where they gather to the hear the Word of Life, to break and share the bread of Holy Communion, to pray and sing songs and hymns of praise and thanksgiving to God.
St. Gregory’s “sacred space” on Sunday morning becomes “common space for all” on Friday afternoons where life-giving practices happen, out of where goodness and hospitality, generosity and well-being flow.
Who would’ve known, say twenty years ago, that St. Gregory’s would have this well-known “Food Pantry”, such a thriving, bustling, life-giving hub for the neighbours living around St. Gregory’s?
For God, anything is possible.
This Thanksgiving Sunday, we give thanks, not only for good blessings in our lives, but also, and especially, we give thanks to God …
…for God’s promise always to stand next to us – even in despairing times,
…God who opens up a future for us, rich with innumerable, good possibilities, a multitude of choices and opportunities for us all to taste and see that God is good!