2014 Lent 32


Mark 10:17-31

The deadline to file taxes is in five days.

I find it somewhat ironic that this reading appears now, so close to this deadline, a reminder to me that the simple life is best, that attachment to things, to stuff, is really quite fruitless.  For I owe the IRS this year.  It’s the first time I’ve ever owed, but I owe.  And a sort of perfect financial storm in 2013 means I owe a lot.

But go, says Jesus; give all your possessions away–or give to the Caesar what belongs to Caesar–and follow me.

Hard to swallow when what you already have feels like so little.  Hard to swallow when you know it will take several months just to recover, just to get back to where you are now in your seemingly lifelong war against debt.  Hard to swallow when you feel like the quality of life you’re striving for has to be compromised just to put food on the table.

Speaking of food, it’s not like we go out to eat several times a week–like a lot of people around us do.  For that is one of the biggest money savers: eating in.  My wife and I realized this early on in our marriage.  So we learned to cook, and to cook well.  So now, not only do we save money by eating in most of the time, we can give ourselves far healthier options than most eateries can, not to mention smaller portions.

Still, it’d be nice to feel like we could go out to eat once in a while without breaking our budget.

But all this doesn’t get around the fact that Jesus tells a well-off young man here to go and sell his possessions and give to the poor.

Ah, but he’s speaking to a young man, an individual; in other words, not (necessarily) to me.

Yet this passage is in the scriptures, which have been canonized for the benefit of all Christians in all times and cultures.  So is Jesus directing this at me after all, in my modern American context?  What about our credit economy?  What about my need for transportation in my highly unfriendly-to-pedestrian surroundings?  What about planning for retirement?

Ah, but Jesus mentions all of the second table of the Decalogue–except one.  Maybe there’s a loophole here I can exploit.  The second table of the Decalogue, by the way, is the love-your-neighbor portion.  Right?  The first table has all the Love-the-LORD-your-God stuff: there’s only one God; no idols; don’t take God’s name in vain; and remember the Sabbath.  The second table is all about loving your neighbor: honor your mom and dad; don’t murder; don’t commit adultery; don’t steal; and don’t lie.  All these the young man has kept, by the way.  But what Jesus does not mention is the final commandment: do not covet.

Rather, when Jesus says that the young man should go sell all his possessions and give to the poor, and the young man goes away sad–was this a display of covetousness?  I like to think so.  I like to think, too, that surely I don’t struggle with covetousness.  So that settles it!  I’m good.  What little I have in the way of possessions, the war against debt, the eating in, the practical car, it’s all fine since I’m not a covetous person.

But, dagnabbit, I still need to pay my taxes.


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