The Gospel text for this Sunday [Mark 10:23-31] is a continuation of the story of Jesus with the rich young man, although that young man is no longer in the text. The idea of being rich most certainly is. And that word, ‘rich’, has significant connotations and implications.
That is why the disciples are amazed when Jesus said, ‘How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God (verse 23b)!’ The disciples were connecting wealth with the blessing of God. Unfortunately, some present-day disciples are doing that very same thing.
The following words are being connected by some: riches, blessing, power, greatness, and glory. And it may be that the last word of that list is a ‘red flag’ to those who are familiar with the writings of Martin Luther.
This week’s blog is being written in the year 2018, and it is exactly 500 years after the writing of the Heidelberg Disputation of Dr. Martin Luther. (I include the title ‘Dr.’ with his name because that designation gave him the task of teaching the Church.) In that work he makes the point that glory is not always a good thing.
Perhaps one of Luther’s most famous theses is number 21, and it has to do with glory: ‘A theology of glory calls the evil good and the good evil, but a theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.’ It may take a while to get your mind around what Luther is saying. (That is especially true if you consider the word ‘glory’ to be a good thing!) But Luther wants, ultimately, to put the central focus of Christian doctrine and life on Jesus and the cross.
Luther could have written a lot about this thesis (he often DOES write a lot). But he has covered the same point in other places. Since he has not written too much in this case, I am including the whole of his explanation of this thesis. Hopefully a combination of this and the gospel text may become your food for thought, whatever your income level.
This is clear: When a man does not know Christ, he does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore, he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to foolishness, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls ‘enemies of the cross of Christ [Philippians 3:18]’, especially because they hate the cross and suffering, but they love works and the glory of works. Therefore, they call the good of the cross evil, and they call the evil of a work good. But man cannot find God apart from the cross and suffering, as has already been said. Therefore, the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross, works are destroyed and the old Adam, who is especially built up by works, is crucified. For it is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his good works unless he has first been humbled and brought to nothing by suffering and evil, until he knows that he is nothing and that his works and not his, but God’s (translated from the St. Louis Edition, vol. 18, p. 50).
Jesus, in the gospel text, is connecting the things that he is saying to his cross. His followers are trying to disconnect them—and sometimes this writer does that very same thing. Thankfully, Jesus is headed to the cross to pay for those sins as well.