Scripture: Wisdom 7:7-11; Letter to the Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-31
In the Gospel passage this Sunday, an unnamed man meets Jesus and asks what he must do to possess everlasting life. Jesus replies with emphasis on the true meaning of “treasures,” that is, not worldly goods, but belonging completely to God and to God’s Kingdom. Hearing the words of Jesus, though, the man goes away sad, preferring to hold on to his possessions and not leave them behind. Maybe, we can hope, he eventually took to heart Jesus’ teaching and did became a follower of the Lord, who alone can satisfy the deepest hunger of the human heart. But we don’t know if that happened or not.
Possessions are not necessarily bad, but contrary to popular belief, they are not everything. “The best things in life aren’t things,” as the saying expresses it. The things in life that we should value the most are too often overlooked, with doing all we can to acquire what we want but really don’t need.
The man in the Gospel passage today runs up and kneels before Jesus, with good will, admiration and enthusiasm for Jesus. He seems to making the best of the long-awaited occasion to meet Jesus. It might be comparable to someone personally meeting the pope either in Rome or on one of his visits elsewhere. It may be a “once in a lifetime” occasion and the highlight of one’s existence. Maybe that was so for the man in the Gospel today.
In any case, the man addresses Jesus as “good teacher,” expressing esteem and reverence for the person of Jesus. Perhaps the man saw in Jesus more than just a teacher. Possibly he had heard of Jesus’ extraordinary personality and his miraculous deeds as well as his unusual mercy to sinners, outcasts and lepers. The seriousness of the question, “What must I do to share in everlasting life?”, reveals the man’s great opinion of Jesus. There is a belief and trust on the part of the man that Jesus knows and can reveal to him what is needed to acquire everlasting life.
The question of the man can seem somewhat surprising, since the Tora, the Law of God, already gives the answer. Even so, since the man has been keeping the Law since his childhood, he perhaps suspects the inadequacy of mere observance of the Law and the possibility that there is something more he must do.
Jesus answers the question about eternal life by recalling the commandments of God, most especially love of God and of neighbor, summarized in the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. Keeping those fundamental commands is doing the will of God and thereby moving toward sharing in eternal life.
The man speaking with Jesus answers that, as an observant Jews, he has tried to keep God’s Law faithfully all his life. Looking upon the man and recognizing his good will and position disposition toward the Kingdom of God, we are told that Jesus “loved” him and invited him to become a disciple of the Lord.
For the man in the Gospel this Sunday, and for each of us, the way to eternal life is to become a follower of Jesus, without counting the cost. The principal command of Jesus, then, is “come and follow me.” To be fully free in order to share Jesus’ mission of salvation is what the man is being invited to, and we as well.
By abandoning wealth, the man would free himself completely in order to be able to offer himself totally and finally to a new call as a follower of the Lord. However, the Gospel says, the man is not willing to give up his many possessions and so, at least at this moment, he refuses the way Jesus shows him. He goes away sad, most likely because he knows that the special vocation to which Jesus calls him requires from him a special and definitive answer, but for the present, the man cannot give.
Discipleship of the Lord requires “giving up,” in order to have what is really needed, namely, God and the Kingdom.
Jesus is the source of life, the new life of One raised from the dead, who is the source of all gifts, joy, happiness and understanding. Nothing can be more valuable than those things! We should be willing to recognize that fact and give up all to have the “one thing necessary,” or “the better part,” mentioned by Jesus, recorded by the Evangelist Saint Luke in his Gospel, chapter 10, verse 42.
If we are willing to sacrifice everything for God, then God will impart true wisdom, the topic of the first reading for Mass this Sunday. When we give up we also discover that we have not lost anything and we see and possess from a new slant, since all belongs to God and ultimately is returned to God, sooner or later.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB