We Knew Before We Asked

 

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost  |  Mark 10:17-31

It is sothe that synne is cause of all this peyne,
but al shal be wele, and al shall be wele, and all manner thing shal be wele.

It is truth that sin is the cause of all of this pain,
but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

—The Revelations of Divine Love, Julian of Norwich, c. 1416

Lectionary Project—Part of an ongoing three year project of weekly posts based on the Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary.

We Knew Before We Asked

He knew the answer, but he asked the question anyway. It wasn’t casual. The fellow put some effort into the asking.

He ran to catch Jesus before he left on a journey, just to get an answer that he already knew. Maybe the young man had connections among the disciples and learned about their impending journey. Maybe he just came walking over the crest of a hill in time to see this bunch of people heading out on the road. Maybe he was simply so anxious that he started running.

At any rate, the Gospel tells us that he rushes up, kneels at Jesus’ feet, and asks what he must do to live forever. How do I get to heaven?

Jesus starts with the answer the young man is counting on—keep the commandments, follow the rules, do the right thing. And the man is happy to hear it, because he has always been a very decent sort of fellow. He must have been. We hear that Jesus looks at the young man, sees something in him, and loves him, not in the Jesus-loves-everybody way, but in a stand-out-of-the-crowd sort of way.

And then Jesus gives the young man an answer he does not want to hear. Go sell everything and give the money to the poor. Go let go of everything that ties you to this world. Go bet the farm on heaven, and then you can count on it.

Shock. Grief. Those are the fellow’s reactions. He goes away grieving, but nothing is said about running, not now.

He wanted to know what the ticket to heaven would cost. The answer was everything he didn’t want to let go.

Julian of Norwich
Statue of Julian of Norwich, holding Revelations of Divine Love

In the fourteenth century, a woman we know as Julian of Norwich entered a small room attached to a wall of a church, and there she lived for years, an anchoress, letting go of the world and holding only to God. She wrote down her experience of a series of ‘shewings’ or ‘revelations’—visions, ecstatic experiences of God. Her writings are known as The Revelations of Divine Love.

Perhaps the best known quote from her writings is this one: “…it is well, it is well, and all manner of things shall be well.” It is less known that in her vision these are the words of Jesus, comforting her in her contemplation that God would permit the existence of sin.

Somehow, within that small room, she experienced the kingdom of God.

It’s hard, Jesus tells the ones who stay with him. It’s hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. The disciples didn’t seem to understand why, but that is no comfort to us: the disciples in this Gospel do not seem to understand very much at all.

What is this kingdom of God, and why is it so hard to enter? Why is it especially hard for a rich person?

Maybe it is the luggage limitation. It’s hard to walk if you are holding onto everything you have, and it’s hard to go anywhere when you’re attached to the place where you are. Maybe it is the limits of our imagination. It is hard to set our minds on something we don’t even understand.

The kingdom of God—what is that? When is it? Is the kingdom a place, a real walk around sort of place? Is it a state of mind? Is it heaven, one day, some day, some place? Is it present, like the laughter of a child?

No one can do it, no one can get in, Jesus tells them. It is impossible for mortals, he says, but it is not impossible for God.

For God all things are possible.

Like those early disciples, we miss the point. We think we must either hold onto something or give it up, or do the right thing and avoid the wrong one, and surely in one way or the other we can find our way into the kingdom of God. We do not even understand where it is, but we think that if we walk long enough, we can get there.

We have all the world, life itself, riches unmeasured, and we cannot get into the kingdom of God. One does not get in with a good deed, or pick the lock with remorse. There are no gates, no doors, no tent flaps. Opening a door that does not exist is as preposterous as shoving a camel through the eye of a needle.

We can’t go inside because the kingdom of God is already all around us. We can’t buy a ticket because they are free. And none of it, nothing of the kingdom of God, can be attained. It can only be received, a gift, and neither begging nor earning have anything to do with it.

The kingdom of God is a gift, the grace of a God who is present despite all things, a God who opens doors where there are none, a God who will make all things well.

Julian of Norwich Window