September 30, 2018

COST OF DISCIPLESHIP

BIBLE READINGS
Mark 10:17-31
Hebrews 4:12-13
 

REFLECTION

John Pedley is a millionaire from the UK who used to live a luxurious and swinging lifestyle. But an alcohol-fuelled accident left him on the verge of death. And ever since the accident, he had a profound change of heart. He found God and was inspired by the charity work that his friend did in Uganda.

 So he wanted to be like his friend and literally gave all of his wealth away. First, he sold his $1.5 million farm house and business. He then used the money to move to a house made out of mud in Uganda to start a charity for the local orphans.

For him, the whole things were a cathartic release from his previous lifestyle. Once he was asked whether he was really serious about the whole plan. He answered, “I’ve never been more sure about anything in my life.”[1]

John Pedley’s decision was in contrast to the rich man’s decision in our reading today from the Gospel of Mark. Our story from Mark begins with the Narrator telling us that Jesus was on “his way again”.[2] This may sound rather trivial, but nothing is trivial when we study the Bible closely.

To be “on the way” is not only a description of location; it has a particular meaning. Remember that John the Baptist was called to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy to “open the way” for God.[3] The followers of Jesus were also known as “followers of the Way of the Lord."[4] So, by mentioning “the way” at the beginning, Mark wanted us to know that the story was about discipleship.[5]

Now, the rich man in the story seemed to be genuine. His respect of Jesus and his motive seemed to be sincere. His question seemed to be nothing like the kind of question that the religious leaders often asked Jesus. These leaders often asked questions that were designed to trap Jesus. And his genuineness was reciprocated in the way Jesus responded to him. Mark told us that Jesus lovingly looked at the man.[6]

But Jesus still gave a surprising answer. First, he told the rich man to follow the second part of the Ten Commandment. This part concerns human-to-human relationships: respect your parents, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not tell false accusation, do not envy other people’s belonging.[7] 

The man answered that he had done all those things since his younger years. He had been obedient to God’s law as it was given through Moses. Yet, there was still something missing in his life. He was not satisfied with his life.

This is surprising because this man had everything in his life. He was rich, well-behaved, and responsible. He was a good person. Yet, there was something wrong with his life. He had an ‘itch’ that he couldn’t ‘scratch’, so he came to Jesus, hoping that Jesus would ‘scratch’ his ‘itch’.

But Jesus didn’t give him the kind of ‘scratch’ that he wanted. He told the rich man to sell everything that he had, give the money to the poor, and follow him. The man was disappointed with the answer. He must have expected an answer that would not require him to sacrifice anything, especially his possessions.  So, he chose to go “the other way” instead of following Jesus “on his way”. In other words, the cost of being Jesus’ disciple was too much for the young man.

Friends, discipleship will always involve a sacrifice. There is a personal cost in following Jesus. Jesus himself told his disciples that entering into God’s Kingdom was not easy, whether they were rich or not.[8]

The key word here is priority. What is the priority of our life: being a disciple of Jesus or being, doing, or having other things?

Let us go back to the question that the rich man asked: “What can I do to achieve an eternal life?” But, what is “eternal life”? Is it life after death in heaven? The rich man was hoping for something here on earth and not after he was dead! So, I believe eternal life is living in the presence of God here on earth as it is in heaven. And Jesus told us that the way to achieve this is to have God always as the centre of our life. 

One person that can teach us about having God as the first priority of our life is Francis of Asisi. He was born in Italy in around 12th century. He was the son of a rich merchant who owned farmland around the city of Asisi in Italy where his family lived.

Francis grew up in a privileged environment. He was spoilt and often indulged himself in fine food, wine, and wild celebration. But by the age of 14, he left school. He became a rebellious teenager who liked to drink, party, and break the city’s curfew.

But everything changed after he enlisted in the army and went to a battle. He was captured and made a prisoner of war. His life was spared because his captors were hoping that they would get a decent ransom from his wealthy father. He was thrown into a dungeon prison for nearly a year before his father finally paid his ransom.

Story has it that one day, as he was riding his horse after he was released, he saw a leper on the road. Usually, he would avoid such person. But this time, Francis got off the horse, approached the leper, embraced and kissed him. He said later that he felt a sense of indescribable freedom after embracing and kissing the leper.

Francis’ life had indeed been transformed. He spent more time praying and helping the poor people. This was the time when he heard God’s voice to rebuild the church and live a life of extreme poverty. 

He obeyed the call. He refused inheriting his father’s wealth and swapped his clothes with a simple rough tunic. He served the lepers and other vulnerable people and identified himself with them.

At the time, his lifestyle was quite radical and stood in contrast with the lifestyle of the leaders of the church. In Francis’ time, the church and its leaders were tremendously rich. This concerned people like Francis much. He felt that the long-held apostolic ideal of the church had been lost. He believed that it was his mission to restore Jesus’ teachings and values and vision for the church.

Francis’ teaching and lifestyle and charisma drew thousands of people who became his followers. These people would later be known as the Franciscan friars.

He died at the age 44. Two years later, he was canonised as a Saint of the Church.[9] The current Pope took the name Francis to honour him. Like Francis of Asisi, Pope Francis wants the Church to be the church of the poor and for the poor.

Friends, we don’t have to live like Francis of Asisi or to join his Franciscan Order to be true followers of Christ. But we can learn from him. Unlike the rich man in Mark’s Gospel who rejected Jesus’ call, Francis accepted the call enthusiastically. 

So, friends, what is it that God is calling you to do? Who are the people that God calls you to serve? Where are the places that God calls you to go? 

God’s word is not always easy and comforting. It exposes our excuses, prejudices, hypocrisies, and greediness. It challenges those things that stop us from doing what God wants us to do.

“The word of God ‘is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword’”, say the letter to the Hebrews.[10] God’s word can confront us, just like it confronted the rich man in Mark’s Gospel and Francis of Asisi. They both were challenged to make a decision: one made the wrong decision, the other did not. We too are challenged every day to make a decision: to go the other way or to follow Jesus on his way.

Amen.
Toby Keva

[1] 10 Refreshing Stories of Rich People Who Gave Their Fortunes Away by Marc V. on Listverse.com website (December 24, 2013)

[2] Mark 10:17 – GNT

[3] Mark 1:2-3 – GNT

[4] Acts 9:2 – GNT

[5] Commentary on Mark 10:17-31 by Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman on Workingpreacher.org website (October 11, 2015)

[6] Mark 10: 21

[7] Exodus 20:12-17

[8] Mark 10:24

[9] St. Francis of Assisi Biography on the Biography.com website (Original Published Date: April 2, 2014)

[10] Hebrew 4:12 – GNT