of the Open Hand
10th October 2021
Jesus said again,
"Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!
25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye
of a needle than for someone who is rich
to enter the kingdom of God."
..... Mark 10: 24b, 25
Why does it not occur to us that the things of this earth are not meant to be held onto
but to be given away?
That is the central point of this Sunday's gospel reading from Mark 10:17-31.
It is one of the most familiar stories of the New Testament and one of the most
problematic for preachers. It is a story about how the things we possess trick us
and how easily we choose to be tricked.
Jesus will not allow us to continue in our self-deceit, any more than he allowed
the rich young man.
It is the only story Mark tells about somebody who refuses to follow Jesus;
and for that reason alone, we should sit up and take notice, because it means
that the reason this man used to excuse himself, is likely going to be the same
reason that many people use.
The man approaches Jesus with a question,
"Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
It is a question which reveals much and Jesus knows it, which is why he responds
the way he does. This is a man who can afford the luxury of asking questions
about the good-life-to-come because he doesn't have to worry about the
He is secure in the knowledge that he has everything he needs;
and he simply wants to know how he can deserve more.
But Jesus reminds him of the short list of the commandments, not the first four
which have to do with our relationship to God, but with the last six which have
to do with our relationship to our neighbour.
At first reading, it strikes as an uncharacteristically conventional thing for Jesus
to do. Jesus is quoting the Manual to the man, reminding him of his neighbourly
obligations under the law of Moses - with one notable exception.
When we read the story carefully we notice that Jesus changes
the final commandment; it is right there as plain as day; he says
'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal;
You shall not bear false witness.' Ex 20:17
But, then, instead of adding the next commandment, "You shall not covet,"
Jesus changes the list and says to the man, "You shall not defraud; . . ."
Now, why would Jesus want to do a thing like that?
Why replace: 'You shall not covet' with 'You shall not defraud'?
It was no accident, Jesus knows why the man is wealthy
just the way anyone would have known;
this man would have inherited most of what he owned;
and, since what made most people rich in those days
was owning property, we can assume that when Mark
says "he had many possessions" he meant
that he had "many properties".
And since most wealthy landowners in those days became more wealthy
by acquiring the land of their debt-defaulting neighbours, it is reasonable
to assume that no one who had "many properties" had not become wealthy
except at the expense of other people.
Jesus wants the man to know what he must do to make things right again
before God. He must give back what does not belong to him.
And when the man misses Jesus' challenge the first time and claims to have
obeyed all these laws, including this new injunction not to defraud, Jesus says,
"Fine. Prove it.
There is one thing you lack; go, sell what you own, and give the money
to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.
Inheriting eternal life is not something that we can earn - nor is entering
the Kingdom of God something we can work for. There is nothing we can give
to obtain it. It is free gift.
All we have to do is hold out our hands and accept the gift. It's both the easiest
and the hardest thing we can ever do.
The easiest - because the gift is free.
The hardest - because our hands are so often filled with other things.
A few years ago there was a laboratory experiment with monkeys to assess their
intelligence; a banana was placed in a glass box with small hole for a hand to enter.
While the monkey could get his hand inside to get hold of the banana,
having made a fist he could not withdraw it without letting go of the banana.
He stayed stuck with its hand in the box!
The Law of the Closed Hand has a strong hold on many of us.
Because we manage to grasp something, as our fingers begin to close around it,
we think it is ours. It is self-deception at its most insidious.
Jesus wanted us to see a better way, which may be called the Law of the
Open Hand: that there is an abundance of life that cannot be hoarded,
but only shared.
What we have is not ours to possess but to redistribute so that all will have enough.
Those who are rich because they cannot share what they have - by definition -
cannot enter the place where God lives.
On the other hand,
"You can always give it to someone else."
Indeed, it is the only way in.
We do not always understand that a gift is meant to be shared or given away.
Choose a gift that someone has given you that you had absolutely no right
Give it away to someone else who has no right to receive it;
"and you will have treasure in heaven." -
That is the Law of the Open Hand
It may be interesting to watch,
or just listen to a song
sung by Lindsay Müller & family