by Rev. Richard A. Miserendino
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
As Jesus 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 by 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 of 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.
At some point, all of us struggle with the feeling that there has to be something more to this life. Even on the best days, the world just isn’t enough. But what are we missing? What will fill us up and how do we get it?
This feeling dives to the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel reading. In Mark 10:17-30, we encounter the rich young man, who approaches Jesus with a hungry heart and an inquisitive mind. His question: What must I do to inherit eternal life?
We find that the man is an observant Jew, and though it’s tempting to chalk the man’s self-confidence up to pride or bravado (we’re suspicious: Does he really keep all the commandments?), we also note that Jesus doesn’t correct him or call him out as a liar. Rather, Jesus looks at him, takes him seriously, and loves him. After all, at the time of Jesus, keeping the commandments in their entirety wasn’t thought to be impossible.
Before him, Christ sees a man that really has given it his all, living the law of the Old Covenant as best he can. Yet it still wasn’t enough. His heart was still hungry. Eternal life was still elusive. That’s why he sought Jesus in the first place, to ask the sincere question: What am I still missing?
In this context, we realize that Jesus’ response to the man isn’t the “gotcha” moment that many think it is. Jesus isn’t necessarily saying “go, sell all you have, and follow me” to tweak his nose, chiding him for being rich as such. Rather, the Lord is driving home a central point: Nothing in this world, not even the Old Covenant itself, can satisfy our heart or merit heaven. No amount of laws kept, good deeds done, or riches piled high can get us through the pearly gates. What’s needed? Follow Jesus entirely, whole-heartedly. Only then will your heart be filled.
There is, at the end of all things, only one way to get to heaven: Follow Christ to the extent that everything else becomes secondary, background, left behind if necessary. Why is this?
First: because eternal life is life in God. Eternal life is Jesus himself, and must be received as a gift, never earned. Nothing we do can ever make us deserve someone else’s life, least of all God’s. No amount of “being a nice person” earns our salvation. We either receive it in Jesus, or not at all.
Second: The minute we prioritize something before God, or even on an equal playing field with God, we lose God entirely and all else with it. When our priorities get out of whack, we lose our peace. But if we gain Christ, we gain all in God. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose himself, after all? Moreover, when we put God first, God who is love, we find that all other things such as friendships, jobs, or even our keeping of the commandments are nourished by that relationship.
This Gospel has the miraculous effect of making all of us take a fresh look at our “stuff” and see it in a new light. The church teaches that it’s not so much about selling all we have, but rather making sure all we have is placed at the service of following Christ. For each asset, each job, each relationship, we should ask: Does this lead me toward or away from Jesus? Then we should make practical, concrete adjustments accordingly. A good place to start is our daily habit of prayer. Do we plan our daily prayer time with at least as much intent and necessity as our mealtime? After all, we prioritize eating because it keeps us alive. We should prioritize prayer at least as much, if not more. Prioritizing Christ leads to eternal life.