Proper 23, Year B, St. Barnabas, Tullahoma

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’" (Mk. 10:27).

Back in 1952 Norman Vincent Peale published The Power of Positive Thinking, a book that was enormously popular and influential in everyday culture. Even people who had never heard of Peale or read his book were impressed with the idea that maintaining a positive attitude increased the likelihood that good things would happen. The idea continues to echo in popular culture. Who doesn’t believe that a negative attitude gets in the way of happiness?

Jesus certainly sounds pretty positive in our Gospel today: “for God all things are possible” (Mk. 10:27). Note, however, that it’s not “with God all things will be possible for us” but rather that all things are possible for God. The emphasis is not on what we’re able to do but on what God is able to do. Jesus focuses us on God, the chief actor who is able to do whatever he wills to do.

The context, of course, is Jesus’ teaching on the difficulty of entering the kingdom of God, specifically the barrier that wealth creates. Jesus paints a vivid word picture of the difficulties for the rich man: “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” (Mk. 10:25). The disciples gathered around Jesus focus on the technical question of what human beings can do in the face of their possessions. They know as well as Jesus does that our possessions tend to possess us. What’s to be done?

We too tend to focus on the technical question of what this teaching means for us. We have in mind the rich young man earlier in the Gospel who asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. We too want to know what the answer is, and then hearing it we struggle with it. “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Mk. 10:19).

It’s in this context that Jesus reminds his disciples, and reminds us, that the focus on what we need to do is not where we should start. Remember, God is the chief actor in the biblical story of faith. The story of Creation starts with “In the beginning God…” (Gen. 1:1). God is the one who calls Abraham, sends Joseph to Egypt, and then leads the People of God out of slavery into freedom in the Promised Land.

God is also the chief actor in my story and your story of faith. Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own stuff, our own urgent questions for God about ourselves, that we fail to take the place that God has called us to. But God is the One who makes everything possible. His will be done, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, and as in fact happens as his will unfolds. God’s not afraid of the barriers that we set up and that we think are so formidable that they can frustrate God’s will. He tramples them down as if they are nothing.

Notice how Jesus keeps the focus on God from the very beginning of our Gospel. When the rich young man comes and kneels before him at the start of our reading, he poses his question by first calling Jesus “good teacher” (Mk. 10:17): perhaps he’s ingratiating himself with Jesus, getting in good with the teacher. Jesus replies, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mk. 10:18). From the very start Jesus keeps the focus on God. This is actually a pretty good way to avoid being manipulated by flatterers! Jesus wants us to turn to God, not to confound God with our puzzling questions but to root our whole lives in God.

That’s what this comes down to: letting nothing get in the way of responding to God’s claim on our lives. Jesus is calling us to follow him: that’s how he ends it with the rich young man. “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Mk. 10:19). Jesus’ call to us does require us to do things: mostly to get moving. He gives us the grace to respond to the call, through the sacraments that equip us and the Scriptures that prod us forward. There is no barrier that is equal to that power that comes from God, who truly makes all things possible.

  • The Rt. Rev'd John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee