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Sunday 13 October 2024 Trinity 20, Twenty-eighth in Ordinary time, Proper 23

Letting go

Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31

By Peter Rainford

Anglican Reader

Context: outer-estate congregation

Aim: to encourage release from attachments


He was the kind of guy we might dream about being part of our congregation. Matthew tells us he was young. Luke says he had influence. They and Mark tell us that he was rich. He was also moral, and he was keen. Despite the horrors of living in Roman-occupied Palestine, he was full of hope. God was going to bring a new age of justice and peace. Moreover, it seems he’d sensed Jesus might have something to do with making that happen. He wanted to be part of it. So, how would he qualify?


Our reading from Hebrews speaks of the word of God penetrating even to dividing soul and spirit – everything is laid bare before God. And the conversation with this wealthy young man illustrates just that.

Jesus opens with an implicit challenge as he turns the conversation to God rather than his, or the young man’s, moral virtues. But he still acknowledges his enquirer’s good intentions by identifying Commandments that he’s likely to have kept.

However, I wonder if he noticed what Jesus left out. Those about God and idols. And that sting in the tail – the Commandment about coveting.

Jesus sees into his very heart. But, not with judgment. He looked at him and loved him. And not for his money, worldly ambition or influence. Such assets would become liabilities in the new age.

‘There’s just one thing you need to do’ Jesus said. ‘Sell up, give everything to the poor, so you enjoy the wealth of the new age, and then come and follow me’.

We read that the man’s face fell and he went away sad. His good desire was frustrated. He was shackled by his attachment to his wealth.


By now, you might well be identifying more with ‘the poor’ than with this well-to-do seeker. And, in a cost-of-living crisis with little or nothing to spare, surely Jesus wouldn’t be asking us to sell everything.

Indeed – this does seem to be a one-off. But there’s something for us too. Jesus answered using the Ten Commandments. The Beatitudes are sometimes seen as their successor, the manifesto of the new age. And the last Commandment about coveting leads into the first Beatitude, about the poor in spirit.

This Beatitude has layers of meaning but it’s broadly saying that happy and at peace are those who are free to let go, who aren’t covetous or possessive or shackled by attachments, who know their need, and who live from a place of trust.

In theory, rich people can still be poor in spirit (though Jesus thought it unlikely) and it would show in their giving to the poor. And poor people are poor in spirit only if they’re also not enviously fixated on getting richer and acquiring stuff.

But you’ll have met those people who don’t have much money yet are still open-handed. Remember the extraordinary generosity of the poor church in Macedonia, just begging Paul to take their gifts. I think of one late member of our congregation who told me, ‘I just like giving’. That’s freedom from attachment. That’s happiness. They could have been role models for our rich friend.


Like him, we’re often unaware of our attachments – the things we cling to. But imagine Jesus looking into our eyes and hearts and loving us. And revealing what is tying us, denying us happiness and freedom. We can ask him to show us.

We might ask ourselves, ‘Deep down, what do I want?’, ‘Where is my heart set?’, and then, ‘Where is my energy directed?’ and ‘What are my red lines?’ Those red lines might be about possessions – or, possibly, different attachments, like control or status.

Jesus knows well how big a challenge this is for us. Our reading from Hebrews reminds us that he was tempted like us, with those all-too-human attachments. So, he promises grace to help us in time of need. The poor in spirit get that.

The rich young man’s story is left hanging. Did he reconsider? Was he one of those who, only weeks later, joined Jesus’ post-Pentecost followers, found release and joyfully let go of possessions? We don’t know.

But what we can know is our story. Whatever our circumstances, how will that unfold? What release might we discover?


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