Written by: Rachael Keefe

A Bitter Complaint: Reflections on Mark 10:17-31

Job had a “bitter complaint.” He very keenly felt God’s absence. Job wanted to experience God’s presence in the midst of his trials and did not. He longed to be …

A Bitter Complaint: Reflections on Mark 10:17-31

Job had a “bitter complaint.” He very keenly felt God’s absence. Job wanted to experience God’s presence in the midst of his trials and did not. He longed to be comforted knowing that God had heard his prayers and paid heed to his situation. Yet, Job did not experience God in front of him or behind him, on his left or right. Job’s heart was faint and he wished he could vanish in the night. Job’s bitterness and his feelings of being abandoned by God are not unfamiliar. In fact, most of us could share in Job’s bitter complain at one time or another in our lives.

Today I have a different interpretation of Job’s bitter complaint. It isn’t that God is far from us. My complaint is that we are far from God. We have not yet learned what we must do to “inherit eternal life.” There’s a whole branch of Christianity that believes all that is needed is a confession of Jesus as “Lord and Savior.” Then there’s the other branch that isn’t sure what must be done, though we are fairly certain it has to do with earning our way into heaven (as if that’s a thing). Both branches have entirely missed the point of Jesus’ conversation with man who asked Jesus the question in Mark’s gospel.

The man seems to have asked out of genuine interest; he wanted eternal life. The answer Jesus gave him proved to be more challenging than maybe he could handle. First, Jesus recited the commandments, focusing on those that govern living in community – don’t murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, or defraud anyone, and honor your parents (your elders). These things were not a problem for the man. Then Jesus lovingly told him to sell all his stuff, give the money to the poor, and follow him. This was more than the man could handle; he went away shocked and grieving.

Jesus didn’t have anything against the wealthy. His issue was when one valued one’s possessions, one’s wealth, more than one valued loving and serving one’s neighbors. This confusion of value plagues Western society today, particularly White Western society. We judge people’s worth based on their financial and professional success. The Protestant work ethic is woven through our social structures to a ridiculous extent. We can intellectually say that we don’t think people are only valuable when they have large bank accounts. However, our behavior often indicates otherwise. How many times have we seen police officers clearing out homeless encampments and somehow contrived to blame those who live in those encampments for the treatment they receive?

We are all still fighting to be first in line and acting as if God views the world and human beings the same way we do. We haven’t quite heard that “many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” While it is true that having safe housing, money in the bank, food in the cupboards, etc. are blessings, it doesn’t necessary follow that these “blessings” are given by God. If God’s favor was truly reflected in our material possessions, then it would follow that someone like Donald Trump has more of God’s favor than someone like Mother Theresa. The so-called Prosperity Gospel is a fallacy. God’s favor is freely given to all.

As to how to inherit eternal life, well that is a bit more complicated. To ensure eternal life, we must truly love our neighbors as ourselves. Nothing comes between us and bringing Divine Love into the world. We are to be the embodiment of Christ – loving our neighbors, caring for the most vulnerable, and widening the community of love one relationship at a time. Wealth has nothing to do with it. Positions of prestige and power have nothing to do with it. These are tools of the Empire and will make it nearly impossible for a person to fit through the eye of the needle.

Love is the primary tool of the church – love of God, love of neighbor, love of self, love of Creation. If we want to experience God’s presence, then we must be God’s presence by engaging in love, with love, for love, leaving no one out.

We are far from God. We can change that right now, in this moment. If we allow our value to be determined by anything other than God’s love for us, we’ve missed the boat. If we determine the value of another by anything other than God’s love for them, we are in over our heads. We are in danger of drowning if we don’t change our ways.

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RCL – Year B – 20th Sunday after Pentecost – October 10, 2021 Job 23:1-9, 16-17 and Psalm 22:1-15  • Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 and Psalm 90:12-17  • Hebrews 4:12-16  • Mark 10:17-31

For previous posts on these texts see: It’s So Not About the Money from 2018, Bidding Prayer for Compassion from 2015, and Obama, Romney, and Jesus Walked into a Bar from 2012.

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

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