Sunday, October 15, 2006

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 10

20"Teacher," the man replied, "I've obeyed all these commandments since I was a child."
21Jesus felt genuine love for this man as he looked at him. "You lack only one thing," he told him. "Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." 22At this, the man's face fell, and he went sadly away because he had many possessions.

It seems clear to me that there is a connection between architecture and the human spirit. As a recovering York grad, I can admit openly that while I treasure the education I received, I do not have fond memories of the main campus. For those unfamiliar with York, much of it was constructed in the early 1960’s, almost completely of concrete. It was the unhappy meeting of rapid construction (new space was desperately needed) and the emerging use of concrete as the material of choice. The biggest complaint was the lack of a clearly defined “front door” to the university. The Ross Building, the centre of campus, was dominated by a large ramp that seemed to go no where. They rumour was that the ramp was constructed as an easy means to quell student riots.

Moving downtown, I want to compare a couple of buildings to further my thesis that about the connection between what we build and the human spirit. The first one is Eaton’s College Park (1928). College Park is a “low-rise” building, with access at street level. The architect still couldn’t resist the use of stairs, but had the good sense to put them inside, thus making the entrance more inviting.

The second building is Robarts Library, U of T (1968): As a very good example of “Brutalism,” it is constructed in cast concrete. If you have seen it, you will know that it is offensive from every angle, unfriendly and apparently impenetrable. Students variously describe it as Fort Book, the Bunker, and the Turkey.

One building causes the spirit to soar, the other does not.

Put another way, the outward guards the inward. While College Park was designed to invite you in (to sell merchandise), Robarts seems to be designed to ward you off, signaling that the books are off-limits (and maybe they are). The outward guards the inward and sends signals for the world to receive. Campus architecture in the 1960’s and 70’s said, “we have a tradition to protect and if we make it seem scary and inaccessible, perhaps a few less people will try to get at it. The outward guards the inward.


Jesus felt genuine love for this man as he looked at him. “You lack only one thing,” he told him. “Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this, the man’s face fell, and he went sadly away because he had many possessions.

The idea that ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ was not a popular one in the Ancient Near East. It would be obvious that outward appearance was your best way to determine whatever you needed to know about someone. This, in turn, led to theological assumptions, and an entire worldview fell into place. For example, wealth (and the appearance of wealth) meant that you were blessed by God, and the reverse was assumed as well: the poor were cursed and had somehow lost favour with God. It was one of those ‘shorthand’ ideas that people carried around with them, like assuming that clouds bring rain.

And the disciples, who represent the bridge between our flawed human understanding and the Kingdom vision of Jesus, could only see that wealth, blessing, and salvation were all tied up together. They wouldn’t see how the rich young man could do more than continue to keep the commandments and “look good for God” because he obviously enjoyed God’s blessing.

But, the outward guards the inward. Keeping the commandments and being blessed with material possessions did nothing to help the soul of this man. His soul needed to divest and unmask. He needed to take an inward journey.

Esther Armstong and Dale Stitt:

Inward journey brings us deeper into an intimate relationship with God, ourselves and others. Inward journey is about discovering our true self, who we are at the core. It is out of this search for truth and a deep relationship with God that we discover our call, our mission, where we are to invest our life energy.

The inward journey, for this young man, would begin when he could set aside the outward appearance that protected him and gave him meaning. The inward journey would bring him in contact with the things that he might sooner not see, but it would change everything. Vulnerable for once, and without the outward appearance of blessing, the young man would be “naked before God.” It is this kind openness that Jesus suggests, a willingness to explore the hidden depths that are most often obscured by the image we present to the world around us.

Esther Armstong and Dale Stitt:

When people live out of this deeper place, their depths, something profound happens to them. They are transformed. They become more authentic. They become persons of healing. They are good news. Hope, energy, peace, flows from them to others. And while such people who live from a deeper place still have issues to address, challenges to meet, and problems to face, there is something different about them. There is a presence with them. A peace. A centeredness…And we know they are not born this way…all of them have been on a long, intentional, difficult, and sometimes lonely inner journey. They know they will be on this inner journey for the rest of their lives.


There is one other lesson we can draw from this passage, a lesson that is often overlooked when the imagination is confronted by camels slipping through the eye of a needle. It is one of those simple details that, under the right circumstances, will shout at us as we try to read through and see the “big picture.” It comes in verse 21:

Jesus, looking at him, loved him.

This Kingdom vision, this vision of equality and justice and care for the vulnerable has one other characteristic that we too often overlook: love. Jesus loved this young man. Despite the trappings of wealth, despite the misconception about the meaning of faithfulness, despite Jesus’ intuitive knowledge that this man and his wealth were not going to be separated: Jesus loved this young man.

Jesus didn’t love him in the hope he would change.
Jesus didn’t love him for the commandments he kept.
Jesus didn’t love him to out-love the disciples.
Jesus, looking at him, loved him.

This love was neither a carrot nor a stick, it didn’t show anything or prove anything or even lead to anything. It just was and it just is.

Imagine if we took all the lessons and all the sermons and set them aside and centered our minds on the only modern Bible translation that matters:

Jesus, looking at you, loves you.

How would you feel? Would you be free to be you? Would you take more risks knowing that at the end of everyday you can rest in Jesus love for you? What if we’ve made this whole business of faith far more complicated than it needs to be?

Back in the day when religion still loomed large in the popular imagination, Karl Barth met the press when the final volume of his comprehensive look at Christian theology was complete. And journalist, even after the pithy quote said, “Dr. Barth, can you sum up your works in a single sentence? He thought for a moment and said this:

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.


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