|Union University Church|
By Reverend Laurie DeMott
February 26, 2012
August 17th, Kim Kardashian of the reality show "Keeping Up with the
Kardashians", married basketball player Kris Humphries. Their lavish
wedding cost ten million dollars including such pricey expenditures as a
two and a half million dollar diamond head-piece, $150,000 in hair styling,
and a $50,000 pre-wedding facelift for the mother of the bride. Unfortunately,
the actual marriage only lasted 72 days before Kim filed for divorce, which
means that each day of wedded bliss cost the couple $138,888.89.
Now, they say that you can't put a price on true love but the fact is that most of us don't have that kind of money to throw around on true love, let alone on fake love. Curious to know how what else that ten million dollars might have bought, I did a little research on the web and found out that with one dollar, UNICEF can buy a year's worth of schoolbooks for two children in Somalia. There are approximately five million children living in the country and a little quick math tells us that the money Kim Kardashian spent on a wedding for a marriage that lasted less than three months could have bought enough school books for all of the school children in the entire country of Somalia for four years.
"It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven," Jesus said, and when we see the extravagant waste of millions of dollars on media weddings, the greed of Wall Street bankers, and the enormous salaries received by CEOs even as their companies go bankrupt and their employees receive lay off notices, we nod our heads at Jesus' words and shake our fists at the self-centered predatory rich whose behavior seems as far from the gospel as Somalia is from downtown Alfred. If Jesus were around today, we say, certainly he would be carrying a placard saying, "We are the 99%", and demanding more equity in our country between the rich and the poor.
Of course, before we get too sanctimoniously outraged, we should remember
that the three dollars we spent at Dunkin' Donuts the other day for a
coffee and apple fritter could have bought a year's worth of school books
for six Somalian children. Maybe you or I can't educate an entire country,
but are we not still rich in the eyes of a Somalian child?
"I have kept all of the commandments from youth," he tells Jesus, "including the prohibitions against stealing, lying, or defrauding others." We don't know how he made his money but if he is being honest about his moral integrity, we can assume that his wealth is either a well managed inheritance, or a result of careful spending and smart investments, less like the portfolio of a hedge fund manager and more like the portfolio of a hard working responsible accountant who regularly sets aside 10% of every paycheck and carefully diversifies his stock. This is a good guy. This is the kind of man that you'd want on your church's Board of Trustees -- he'd not only help to manage the church Endowment Fund but he'd be more than willing to crawl around under the building trying to figure out why the plumbing isn't working. In fact, no matter how much we would like this story in Mark to be a story of Jesus condemning the rapaciously greedy, the reality is that the only difference between the man in this story and you and me is that word "rich", and the word "rich" is ultimately a relative term. Compared to Warren Buffet, every person here is impoverished, but compared to a child in Somalia, every person here is wealthy beyond belief.
So, who is Jesus talking to? Could he be talking to us?
Mother Teresa looked at him. “You have enough money to pay airfare to New Guinea?” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” he replied eagerly.
“Then give that money to the poor,” she said. “You’ll learn more from that than from anything I can tell you.”
And Jesus, the physician, diagnoses the man's illness quickly: the man has been thinking of salvation as a thing that you can obtain like an estate on a hill or a diamond headpiece. He has treated the commandments as an investment plan that will ensure his long-term viability. Salvation, though, is not a thing. Salvation is living in peace and wholeness with God, and the only way to live in peace and wholeness with God is to also live in peace and wholeness with others. Salvation cannot be obtained in isolation; it cannot be obtained by focusing solely on one's one needs -- salvation comes only when we turn our eyes from ourselves and think about others as well. Jesus challenges the rich man, saying, "Look at the resources you have. Use those resources to establish a new relationship with the poor in your community. Use your resources of time and energy to attend to those in need of comfort, to care for those who are suffering. Stop seeking your own peace and think of the peace of the entire community.
"Divest yourself of yourself and invest instead in others, and in so doing," Jesus promises, "you will be healed."
"Divest yourself of yourself and invest instead in others, and in so doing, you will be healed."
In 1995, the Columbus Dispatch carried the story of a community that discovered the truth of Jesus' promise. Katie Fisher was a 17 year old high school student who had contracted cancer her sophomore year. She had endured several hospital stays and many rounds of chemotherapy and she was becoming increasingly concerned about the medical costs her family had incurred on her behalf. Katie decided to offer a lamb she had raised to the County Junior Livestock Sale hoping she could earn a little money to help out her family. Before the lamb went on the block, the auctioneer told the audience about Katie’s condition, hoping his introduction might push the price-per-pound above the average of two dollars and to Katie's delight, it worked: the lamb sold for $11.50 per pound. What came next was even more astonishing. The buyer brought the lamb back to the auctioneer and suggested the auctioneer sell it again, which stated a chain reaction of generosity. All day, that lamb was sold and re-sold as families bought it and gave it back; as businesses bid on it and returned it to be auctioned again. Katie’s mother said, "The first sale is the only one I remember. After that, I was crying too hard." They ended up selling the lamb thirty-six times, and raised more than $16,000 in the process.1 A young woman, a family, and a whole community knew healing that day.
But it wasn't the money that healed them; it was the giving that healed
But the rich man walked away because he had many possessions.
1. from "The Story File" by Steve May