The reading for today's service was Mark 10: 17-31. It is quite a well-known reading. Maybe it is familiar because it appears in three of the four gospels. A rich man comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to receive eternal life, but the answer he gets sends him away feeling it was impossible.
Wealth, in Jesus’ time as much as today, brought about privilege and power. We are told that this rich, young ruler kept all the commandments and many perhaps believed that his riches were a sign of God’s favour on his righteous life. Something was still missing, however. He needed more in life. He was looking for a checklist, a to-do list, that would get him into heaven. He got more than he bargained for.
Jesus didn’t tell him what he needed to do or take up, but rather of what he needed to let go. It could be seen that Jesus hated wealth and this was his message, not only for this man but for all of us throughout history. We must live simply, give up our possessions and follow Christ. I am not convinced that Jesus was against wealth as such. He did not speak out of envy or bitterness, but rather out of a deep love for this man that would want him to know his real value and worth without possessions. His answer sought to show the man that God can provide for him even more greatly than his wealth might.
I am convinced this story is not only targeting those of us who may be wealthy, but all of us. We all have things that we hold on to that restrict us from moving forward and knowing life in all its fullness. Our desire to hold on to these things traps us and prevents us from knowing the Kingdom of God that is awaiting us.
There is a story of African hunters who wanted to develop a method of capturing monkeys unharmed to ship to zoos around the world. The hunters used a bottle with a long narrow neck as a trap. The bottle was just large enough so a monkey could put its hand in. In the evening the bottle would be tied to a tree, and in the bottom of the bottle they would place several good-smelling nuts. In the morning, they would find a monkey with its hand clutching the nuts, held securely in the bottle. At any time, the monkey could have released itself simply by opening its hand and letting go of the nuts.
We may smile at the foolish monkeys who get trapped in the bottles, but how often do we hold tenaciously to things from our past, or possessions, or the need for success or the need to be liked by others. We trap ourselves and stop ourselves from moving forward because we cannot possibly drag all our baggage with us.
What Jesus seems to be saying to us is that not only can we not take possessions with us, but clinging to them and other aspects of our lives, like the monkey to its food, holds us captive. There will be places we cannot go, experiences we cannot have, and insights that will never illuminate our lives if we let these things possess us. Our Rich Young Ruler is a monkey who cannot let go, free himself of the bottle, and enter into an earthly adventure that will carry him surely to the kingdom of God.
We all grip onto something in our lives. What is it to which you hold dearly, but at the same time holds you back? What is it that you need to let go, to leave behind, in order to live life more fully? Let us not become monkeys who are easily trapped by our past and our possessions.