January 28, 2015
Dear brothers and sisters,
Mark gives us the good news today in 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.
Jesus looked at him and loved him because he had been faithful to the commandments and to his faith in God. Then, what does Jesus do? He calls him to take a further step, to become a disciple by giving up what he holds dear. Why? To become totally dependent on God, trusting in His love and care. Jesus was asking too much, though. It was too great a leap for the man to make at that time in his life. As Moloney states in The Gospel of Mark, “Capable of doing everything that he sets out to do and having the means to do it, he asks Jesus’ advice on what he must do to attain eternal life….The question, ‘What must I do?’ is the wrong question….His problem lies in his belief that he can attain this ‘something more’ by his own efforts….There is only thing that he lacks. He must rid himself of his possessions and his habitual determination of his own life….Reduced to a situation of need and dependence he will have the opportunity to be receptive to the action of God in his life….[B]ut the man is not receptive to Jesus’ word and the demands of discipleship, and departs.”
Years ago I in thinking about the wealthy — which I did a lot because my business was fundraising — I realized that they had an attitude of “I can” as in I can do whatever I choose because I have the financial means to do so. Money provides a good deal of freedom including the freedom to be generous. However, this freedom is what Jesus is getting at. It permits us to be independent of God. This is the only story in the gospels with the command to sell everything and give it to the poor. Jesus realized that it was this man’s attachment to his wealth and consequently his independence from God that kept him from entering into the kingdom of God during his life not just later. Moloney writes, Jesus “orders the removal of every other support which could interfere with an unconditional obedience….[T]he everyday danger of allowing possessions to determine one’s life is the reason for the man’s failure to become a disciple.”
What is the support that interferes with my unconditional obedience to God’s will, to utter dependence upon Him? I think it’s more than one thing. It is possessions to some extent certainly. The comfort of my home is really important to my sense of well-being. But it’s also my desire to travel and explore. And I choose to buy books instead of using the library. And I enjoy good food and wine. And I feel good wearing something new and in style. And I like to drive a vehicle that’s fun. It’s a long list of things and experiences that all require money. Money that enables me to quench my desires. Money that enables me to be pretty independent. That’s the everyday danger that Jesus is pointing out that can make it hard for me to be a disciple, to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus keeps calling me to follow him. Am I going to follow him or go away sad? I have a hard time saying “no” to myself. That’s what self-denial is all about. Jesus expects me to practice it more often, I think.