April 5, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news from Mark 10:17-22.
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, 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.
The young man was packed in preparation for a journey. He probably had a good many things he was taking with and servants and animals to carry it all. He caught sight of Jesus and impulsively ran up to him eager to ask a question that seems to have been on his mind for a while. He undoubtedly had heard Jesus preach since he addressed him as ‘good teacher.’ Marcus Borg in Jesus states that in this time eternal life meant the life of the age to come. Jesus preached about this referring to it as the kingdom of God, meaning the here and now more often than afterlife in heaven.
Jesus’ first response is to correct the man’s belief. Jesus did not want people to worship him; he redirected his inclination to give honor and fealty to a charismatic preacher and prophet instead to God, the Father. Jesus had come to reshape understanding of God’s love and His desire to be in intimate relationship with each of His people. All glory and honor was to be given to God particularly by obeying His commandments, which were intended as the foundation for the establishment of His kingdom on earth.
Here was an earnest you man who indeed had followed the commandments all his life, which included giving alms to the poor as was required of the wealthy. Jesus loved him for his faithfulness and for his desire for relationship with God. In that love was an invitation to enter the kingdom of God, to be a disciple. However, the kingdom of God as Jesus’ preached turned everything upside down. Desire for intimate relationship with God and for service to His children comes before everything else. We have to give up our desire for power and status and wealth in order to obtain the treasure of the kingdom of God.
What does the young man do? He didn’t get the answer he wanted, so he turned and left; he turned down the invitation to enter the kingdom of God. He was true to the letter of the law but not the spirit, the spirit of God within him, the generosity of heart that gives without considering the consequences. Jesus called people to give when asked and to give when the needs of others claim our attention. He wanted immediate gratification and was offered a reward long down the journey of life.
There’s such a great contrast between this young rich man and the disciples who responded to Jesus’ invitation by dropping everything at once in order to follow him right then and there. The invitation, the promise, the cost were all the same. Yet this one turned it down. He didn’t even give it serious consideration. He was simply disappointed that he couldn’t have it all; he couldn’t have the treasures of the kingdom and the treasures of world. It’s also a great contrast to the preceding verses about the way in which children welcome the kingdom of God — with eagerness for the embrace of God, for His attention, for the loving and intimate bond between child and parent.
What keeps me from entering the kingdom of God? What am I lacking? What am I unwilling to give up that keeps me from an intimate relationship with God? In what ways does the world have a chokehold on me? Those are the questions Jesus is asking me today. It is my attachments to this world that keep me from dropping everything and following Jesus as his disciple. I think it is mainly the security of knowing that I have enough to meet my needs and to provide for myself in my old age. I don’t want to be dependent and I don’t want to be deprived of what I want. That’s really two things I guess. Security and desire for creature comforts. The importance, indeed the necessity, of those have been so drummed into my head all my life that I seldom even question how they influence my decisions, my choices.
Is it really the sense of security? As I think about it, I think it’s more about fear, the fear of not having enough, of being dependent, of being denied what I want. It seems the fear is a driving force in my life. In that way I’m like the young man. I’m afraid to give up what I have, afraid to give up my goal to be secure, afraid to be dependent only on God. When I get down to it, I really trust myself more than I do God. I, too, am turning down Jesus’ invitation to enter the kingdom of God. Until I’m ready to give up what’s important to me, I’m not able to say ‘yes’ to Jesus. However, there is hope. As Richard Rohr wrote in one of his contemplations the other day, “God doesn’t love us if we change; He loves us so we can change.” By continuing to open myself to His love I will be more likely to welcome His kingdom. As the preceding verse tells me, “‘Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.’ Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.”
The warning and the promise. I need to keep my heart focused on the promise so I can heed the warning. I don’t want to turn away from Jesus sad because I’m too attached to the things of this world, to the false security they offer. Even so, Jesus loves me as he loved this young man. Jesus was undoubtedly more sad than the young man. What a wonderful God we have!