Gospel – Mark 10:17-30
knelt down before him, and asked him,
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good?
No one is good but God alone.
You know the commandments: You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother.”
He replied and said to him,
“Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
At that statement his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
“How hard it is for those who have wealth
to enter the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words.
So Jesus again said to them in reply,
“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves,
“Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said,
“For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.
All things are possible for God.”
Peter began to say to him,
“We have given up everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands
for my sake and for the sake of the gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:
houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands,
with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.”
Reflection on the Gospel
Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.
The entire challenge of the Christian life could be summed up in this Gospel with the dialogue between Jesus and the rich young man. It all hinges on the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In response to the young man’s question, Jesus reminds him of the importance of following the Commandments.
In the young man’s answer, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth,” we can just feel the power of what it means to use the word all. It is a word that offers such certainty, finality and even security. Does the young man think that he has done all that is necessary? Perhaps he somehow knows what comes next when Jesus says, “You are lacking one thing.” Don’t we know what it is like to be holding our breath waiting for the “but” at the end of any assessment or even compliment, especially when we would like to think that we have it all covered?
It is such a refreshing pivot the Lord makes from a seemingly mechanical dialogue, “You know the Commandments…” to then hear that “Jesus looked at him, loved him and said to him….” The lesson to come was to be offered in love. Jesus was waiting for the young man to approach the precipice of his own shortcoming to counter it with love.
Whether Jesus knew if the young man was wealthy or not may not matter. What does matter is that Jesus knew he had more to give. The message here is clear. We are asked, in love, to give all. Certainly, we can take and appreciate the literal message of the salvific pitfalls of financial wealth in this story. But the message seems to be much more universal, if we understand wealth as horded or withheld abundance of any kind.
It’s a fair expectation for those who are struggling to simply survive to say that salvation can be found in not breaking the Commandments. In fact, many would find it very difficult to keep from breaking God’s laws if survival of dependent loved ones was on the line. But for the rest of us, who at this moment find ourselves staring at a screen skilled with the literacy to decode what we see, the bare minimum of doing no harm and breaking no commandments seems deficient. Our all is different. It’s not enough for many of us to just keep from offending others and God by keeping His Commandments. Our abundance requires that we use what we have to undo the injustices done by others, to act as the salve for a humanity injured by its own.
The story ends with the reference to the odds of a camel passing through the eye of a needle. This needle is often interpreted as the passageway through the tower in a city’s wall, too small to allow a camel with a pack of its owners possessions to pass through. Having more than is needed or practical can be a perplexing challenge to Christians experiencing abundance. Perhaps the real challenge issued to the rich young man and to all the faithful is – what are we willing to remove from our camel’s pack? Are we willing and prepared to empty the entire load, to give all, not just for our own salvation but for the sake of the most vulnerable among us?
Thus, the ultimate question of this Gospel is – what do we have to sell? What is our wealth or abundance? What have we been blessed with that can bless the world, particularly regarding those most in need? Perhaps it’s an underused skill, spare time to spend on advocacy, an available ear or even something as simple as a ready smile. Is it any wonder that those things we would rather not let go of are not only keeping us from passing through narrow passages, but are also actually depriving others of what they so desperately need from us – things that God has willed to be theirs all along? Still, we are not in this alone. It is where we are willing to face our shortcoming, our inability or even unwillingness to give all that Jesus will look at us, love us and help us to find our way. “All things are possible for God.”
We never hear what becomes of the rich young man and what he chooses to do with Jesus’ advice. Where his story leaves off, ours begins.
Live, Jesus, in our hearts – Forever.