This past Sunday, I offered my reflections on Mark 10:17-31 in a sermon titled "The Trouble with Money." I'll admit, I struggle a lot with this teaching. Because it seems so harsh, and so absolute. And because I myself certainly don't seem to be living up to it. On the other hand, sometimes we overly spiritualize stories in the bible like this. One interpretation of this story was that Jesus didn't really want the rich man to give away all he had. He was just showing the man that he was overly dependent on his own money and abilities, and not on God's loving grace. While I've got no real problem with that as a teaching--it just seems too easy. In reading the story like that, we rarely end up actually examining the incredible power money has in our lives. If encountering Jesus was as revolutionary, life-changing and challenging as people seemed to think it was (and is), then we shouldn't be surprised if these texts make us uncomfortable once and a while. We also shouldn't be surprised when they make big demands of us as his followers.
A couple days ago I shared a story on Facebook that was all about how demanding following Jesus can be. This past week 21 Coptic Christians were murdered in Libya by militants boasting affiliation to the Islamic State. Yet, in an interview with the BBC, Bishop Angelos, the Bishop of the Coptic Christian church in the United Kingdom, said that he is willing to forgive those who committed the crime:
“We don't forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts,” Angaelos told CNN. “Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.”
It's a terrible and heinous crime--one perpetrated against a religious minority in a majority Muslim country. Yet, this bishop says that forgiveness is his "responsibility as a Christian Minister," and undoubtedly as a follower of Jesus Christ. This is rooted in some of Jesus' hardest teachings to his followers. In Matthew he commands his followers to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you", and from the cross asks God to forgive the very people who are killing him. If I am honest with myself, I'll admit that I am sure if I would have the courage to forgive anyone who did that to my church community, let alone my closest family or friends. I'd probably want revenge, or at least that they be punished first and foremost to the fullest extent of the law (or beyond the extent of the law). This is really hard stuff.
I am not entirely sure how to be able to do stuff like this. There are no easy answers or simple methods when it comes to following Jesus. Nonetheless, these are the teachings and the way of life that the people of Jesus have insisted lead to fullness of life for centuries. There's a freedom that seems to come in generously giving of ourselves and what we have. And there's a freedom that seems to come in letting go of our own anger and desire for revenge so we can forgive. The teachings are not easy. But maybe that's the point. Because letting go of the hurtful and destructive patterns of centuries of human life is no easy an easy task. But it is a necessary one if we are to experience life everlasting--life as it was always meant to be in the here and now (God's kingdom)--and if we are to join in with God's healing redemption of the world. It seems like a huge and impossible task. But maybe--as Jesus says in last Sunday's reading--"with God, all things are possible."