Here is a post I made to NewProclamation.com in regards to next Sunday's lessons: Amos 5:6–7, 10–15; Hebrews 4:12–16; Mark 10:17–31.
First thoughts on law and gospel in this week’s readings.
Amos – Seek the Lord and live... or else! The elite of Israel violated their covenantal obligations toward the poor. Injustice, individual or structural/communal, is a violation of the law. We can have thousands of Ten Commandments monuments on our courthouse lawns, ten thousands of Decalogues posted in our schools, but if we do not have justice for the poor, the Lord will break out against us like fire.
Hebrews – the word of God judges our hearts, our intentions. We are all naked before before the searching eyes of the law.
Mark – First, Jesus lays out the second table of the law, which provides boundaries for our life together in community. If you forget for a moment the commandment forbidding coveting (a sin of the heart which Jesus skips - intentionally?), we can deceive ourselves that we can keep the second table of the law by our own strength.
Then, however, Jesus essentially lays down the first table of the law. Who is the rich man’s god? In whom or what does he trust? Can he give away his source of self-sufficiency and self-worth? Can he answer Jesus’ call to follow him? We don’t know what happened to the rich man after he went away grieving.
Growing up in a more fundamentalist denomination, I remember hearing the bogus explanation of Jesus’ saying about the camel through the eye of a needle: the (non-existent) ‘eye of the needle’ gate in Jerusalem, through which a camel had to kneel down in order to enter. I remember being told that, therefore, it really wasn’t that hard for a rich person to enter heaven (though Jesus says the kingdom of God), so the rich don’t really have to give away their wealth.
The needle-eye gate myth, of course, makes nonsense of the disciples’ reaction of great astonishment: “Then who can be saved?” If the rich just have to kneel down and crawl through the gate of heaven, big deal. I’d rather crawl into heaven than dance into hell.
“Who can be saved?” Jesus’ words sting us with the law, because most of us can relate to the rich man. On some level, and relative to someone, every member of my church (including me, of course) is rich. We are challenged to examine our relation to our wealth, whether it is money, property, or status. In what or whom is OUR trust? Could we give it all away? Is Jesus asking US to do so? If we follow this law of Jesus, and take on a life of poverty, will we then be saved by our obedience to Jesus’ law?
That leads us to the GOSPEL. “For God all things are possible.” “Seek the Lord and live... it may be that the Lord... will be gracious.” Salvation belongs to our God, and to Christ, the lamb. We have a high priest who can “sympathize with our weaknesses.” We are invited to “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Frederich Buechner wrote: “A clenched fist can do many things. It can hammer a nail. It can grasp on and hold tight. A fist can be used as a weapon to lash out. But the one thing a clenched fist cannot do, is reach out and receive.” (Ann Newgard-Larson pointed this quote out to me in our text study)
I do not want the gospel message of God’s salvation to obscure the law of the clenched fist – that if our faith is in our stuff, then our faith is not in God. The rich man walked away from Jesus, grieving. Jesus gave him no easy out.
Well, these are my first thoughts, at least – I am once again starting my sermon late! How will YOU preach the law and gospel this week?