31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
February 13, 2022
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Kitty Eaton, my college sorority housemother, was a very wise woman. She was very well traveled and had even had dinner with the Dali Lama once. She taught her college students many things, including that there are two ways to hold love. You can trap love in your closed hands, holding on to it even when it wants to be free, or you can hold love in open hands, gently, knowing that it stays because it chooses to.
You can imagine what the wiser choice is. And that is the way Jesus loved people – gently, with open hands, inviting and free because that is how God’s love is. God’s love is patient; God’s love is kind; God’s love does not insist on its own way.
In this story from the gospel of Mark, we hear again of Jesus inviting someone to come and follow him and be his disciple. The man in this story had great wealth and security. He was likely well known and respected. He followed God’s commandments and was a deeply religious man. And because he was connected to God, he sensed there was something more to life. He felt God calling him to take the next step in his faith journey.
So when he heard about Jesus, he ran to Jesus and knelt before him. It was a sign of respect, and it might have also been a sign that what the man was really searching for was healing, wholeness, this feeling that his life had meaning and purpose. And the man asks Jesus, ‘What can I do to get eternal life? What must I do to earn or inherit it?’
Jesus’ response in a nutshell is – eternal life, new life in God, is not about obligation. It is not about adding one more accomplishment, following one more rule. You cannot earn it. It is a gift freely given. You simply need to open your hands to receive it.
Then Jesus invites the man to take the next step. Jesus invites the man to sell whatever he owns and give it to the poor.
It is easy to focus on the money part of this story, to think that discipleship is about selling what we own; however Jesus does not invite his disciples to a life of poverty. He calls them to a life of discipleship, of being connected to God and connected to our neighbors, especially to our neighbors in need. Jesus is calling us to let go of that which is holding us back, that which gives us a false sense of security and control, and instead turn to God, connect with God.
And sometimes, as in the case of this man, what might be holding us back might be possessions or money. In other situations, it might be fear that is holding us back from fully trusting in God. Along this journey of life and faith, we drag a lot of baggage, and Jesus invites us to lay it down, to lay it all down and come and follow him.
When Jesus looks at this man, Jesus sees someone who needs to let go of his stuff and share his abundance with his neighbors in need. Jesus sees someone whose next step in faith is to embrace his identity as a beloved child of God and not cling to an identity built on what he has and owns. Jesus sees a man who needs to let go of his old ways of living so he can embrace God’s new. So with all the love of God in his heart and eyes, Jesus invites the man to come and follow.
The man cannot though. Unlike James and John, the man cannot leave what is his version of “boat and father”. Even though he could sense that there was something more for him out there, even when Jesus invited him to take the next step and come and see, still, he could not let go. He would not let go. He was afraid to let go of what he knew, of what made him feel secure.
And Jesus let him go – because Jesus does not force us to love Jesus. Jesus does not force us to follow. Jesus invites us to let go of that which is holding us back from embracing new life in God’s community. Jesus invites us to let go of the old so we can receive God’s love and share God’s love.
With open hands, with open arms, with eyes full of love, Jesus invites us to come and follow him.