Gospel: Mark 10:17-30
What is the greatest need in our society? To what lengths will people seek answers to that need?
The political season is upon us. Politicians from every side promise us policies and programs to satisfy every need. Have a problem? Look around. You'll soon find a candidate that will "empower" you with a solution.
Of course, the cynic in all of us knows better. But, that skeptical piece of knowledge does not stop our inner craving for answers to our problems. Sometimes we seek the public means, sometimes private. No matter how hard we try, no matter how much money or influence we have, it does not seem to be enough. We still seek that which will make us happy, that which leave us satisfied.
A man knelt before Jesus to find an answer to his search. What Jesus said to the man challenged the fundamental direction of his life.
17 When Jesus first started on a journey, a man ran up to him, felt to his knees, and asked, "Perfect Teacher, what do I have to do so I can receive eternal life?"
18 "Why do you call me 'perfect?'" Jesus shot back. "Only God is 'perfect.' 19 You know God's commandments: Don't kill. Don't be unfaithful in marriage. Don't steal. Don't lie about others. Don't cheat. Honor your parents."
20 "But, teacher," the man replied, "I've obeyed all these commandments since I was a young boy."
21 As he looked at the man, Jesus felt love for him. So, Jesus said, "There is something else you don't have. Leave here, sell everything you own, and give the money you earn to the poor. You will have treasure with God. Then, come and follow me."
22 The man's face turned very sad for he was rich. So the man left.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his followers, "It's really hard for the rich to enter God's Kingdom!" 24 Jesus' followers looked surprised by what he said. So, Jesus told them again, "Children, it's really hard to enter God's Kingdom. 25 It's easier for a large camel to squeeze through the small eyelet of a needle than for a rich person to get into God's Kingdom."
26 Now Jesus' followers were really surprised! "Then, who can be saved?" they asked.
27 Jesus looked right at them and said, "People can't to it by themselves, only God can do it. For 'everything is possible with God!'"
The gospel addressed two issues of faith. First, what can I do to gain the afterlife? And, second, who can help me when I fall short of the goal? In Mark, the answer to the first question was the means to eternal life: trust. The answer to the second question was the object of trust: God.
17 As HE (first) traveled out on the road, a man, having run toward and having fallen on the knees (before) HIM, was asking HIM, "Good Teacher, what must I do to receive an inheritance (from God of) eternal life?" 18 But JESUS said to him, "Why do you call ME 'good?' No one is 'good' except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: 'Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not deprive (others of their property or their just wages). Honor your father and mother." 20 The man said to HIM, "Teacher, I have observed these since my youth." 21 JESUS, having looked upon him, loved him and said to him, "One (thing) lacks in you. Leave, sell as much as you have, and give (the profit of the sale) to the poor. You will have treasure in heaven. (Then,) come, follow me." 22 The man, having become gloomy at (JESUS') word, left, being sad for he had many possessions.
10:17 "What must I do receive an inheritance (from God of) eternal life?" We moderns tend to think in terms of an inheritance as a birthright, despite the fact parents can (and sometimes do) cut children out of an estate. While the question used the word "inheritance" has roots in"obtain," clearly the question assumed the giver (the God of Israel) would give it as a gift.
In the context of Judaism, the question implied joining the saved remnant, those at the end of time who would be raised by God and enter his Kingdom. When the man asked Jesus the question, he was really asking Jesus to define the "true" people of God, the group that enjoyed God's favor. So, the question posed demanded that Jesus define what Judaism was really all about.
10:17-18 "Good Teacher . . . No one is 'good' except God." Here "good" meant "perfect." The man posing the question could have turned the compliment into a challenge which Jesus rejected. The teacher of God (i.e., the "perfect") would preach true revelation. Anyone who would have accepted the title could be charged as a false teacher. Jesus refused the bait of the compliment and pointed to the Torah (the Fourth through the Eighth Commandments) to answer the question. In this way, Jesus could claim to preach God's will from the Torah, as any other rabbi.
10:20 "Teacher, I have observed these since my youth." With the questioner on the defensive, he tried to justify himself in terms of Jesus' answer. The questioner was an observant Jew, but, implicit in his question was the sinking feeling that just observing the Law was not enough.
10:21 "You will have treasure in heaven. (Then,) come, follow me." Jesus invited the questioner to discipleship after he entrusted his life to God the Father. The act of selling all he had and giving it to the poor meant the questioner would no longer entrust his riches to "middle men" for investment. No, he would give it to God himself. This act would show all a faith that moved beyond mere observance of the Torah. The man would act as God acted, freely bestowing gifts upon those in need. Such charity (and discipleship with Jesus) would help prepare the man for a place in the Kingdom.
10:22 "for he had many possessions" The questioner was a rich landowner.
As the scene opens, a man ran up to Jesus, knelt as a sign of respect, and then addressed him with the phrase "Good Master." Jesus rejected the term "good" since the title could be a trap [17-18]. But in the exchange, the man inquired about eternal life; this was a sign that the man saw the path ("journey" in 17) Jesus and his followers took as the means to eternal life. So Jesus asked about the man's moral life ; how had he adhered to God's law (Ten Commandments numbers 4-8)?
When the man answered in the affirmative, Jesus moved to the next step: the invitation to fellowship . But the cost was high. The man must give up his possessions, not necessarily his personal wealth, but his attachments to extended family and to business. The man would be a social "orphan"; his family would be the Church.
If the man were to give up attachments, he would abandon his reliance on the mentor-client system of the ancient world. As the note above implied, mentors acted as "middle men" between richer-ruling families and poorer-servant families. For favors bestowed by the richer families, poorer families (i.e., the "clients") would pay kickbacks, taxes, and bribes. They would also boost the reputation of the richer families, thereby cementing their higher status. Middle men between the families grew in wealth and influence as the relationship between the families became tighter.
The questioner was rich. More important, however, he used the mentor-client system to his advantage of his reputation. Jesus asked him to give up that system and all its perks. The man would become a typical follower.
But what would he gain? Instead of having clients, he would be a client of God the Father. Instead of having others dependent on him, he would be totally dependent upon God. This would be a true act of faith. He then would be truly ready to follow Jesus.
In the end, the man could not join Jesus and walked away. He could not give up what he took most of his life accumulating: wealth and power.
23 Having looked around, JESUS said to his disciples, "How (much) difficulty will those having wealth enter the Kingdom of God." 24 The disciples were amazed by HIS words. So, having answered again, JESUS said to them, "Children, how difficult it is to enter the Kingdom of God. 25 It is easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than the rich to enter the Kingdom of God." 26 They were very astonished, saying to each other, "Who is able to be saved?" 27 Having looked on them, JESUS said, "For men (salvation) is not possible, but not for God. For 'all things are possible with God.'"
10:26 "saying to each other, 'Who is able to be saved?'" There is a variant version "saying to HIM, 'Who is able to be saved?'"
10:27 "All things are possible with God." This popular Jewish phrase found it roots in Genesis 18:14 (also see Job 42:2 and Zechariah 8:6).
Jesus remarked about the difficulty for the rich to enter God's Kingdom [23-25]. In the time of Jesus, riches implied multiple family, business, and political connections with their conflicting interests; the life of the rich was stressful and overburdened. In contrast, the lifestyle of Jesus was simple and uncluttered. But even simplicity did not guarantee salvation ; the simple and the poor did have problems that distracted from faith. Jesus reminded his followers that faith was a gift from God; he would take care of any and all problems when faith is a priority . This attitude had its roots in Judaism.
Catechism Theme: Faith: Desire For and Dependence Upon God (CCC 27-30)
In Mark's gospel, the rich man craved more than what he had. But, he did not seek to satisfy that craving with the accumulation of more wealth and power. Indeed, he tried to live a moral life. So, he sought the wisdom of Jesus to answer that craving.
Each human being has that same craving. Within each of us lies a desire for that which transcends time and space, that which will satisfy for a lifetime and beyond. God created us with that craving so we would seek him out. For only in him will we find true happiness.
As we find God, we discover we are utter dependent upon him. That finding can be too much for some to bear. They want control, power, influence. They become, at best, indifferent to religious expression. At worst, they become hostile and violent against the desire to seek God. Nonetheless, apathy or persecution cannot stop the inner yearning that finds itself in every person.
Not only is the search for God universal, its answer can only be found in relationship with God. Only when we find we cannot be happy alone will we find happiness in God. Only when we give up the notion that our riches, personality, or power can give us the happiness we seek, only then will we be ready to receive the Kingdom, the very presence of God himself.
How have your inner yearnings brought you to God? How has he satisfied those yearnings?
Throughout life's challenges and struggles, a yearning still drives us on. The yearning finds its first refreshment in a faith relationship with God. But that yearning drives us to a closer relationship with our maker. It makes moral and religious demands on us. Despite the daily distractions of life, temptations to look for answers elsewhere, and our own moral weaknesses, let us remember the words of Jesus: "For God, nothing is impossible."
How has God shown you his power, turning the impossible to the possible? How will your answer affect your prayer life this week?