Part of Mark’s gospel for Sunday October 14th(Mark 10:17-31) includes the following incident.
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’”
He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and said, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed …. But Jesus said to them …. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”
One typically hears this story with the point of view of a bystander to the conversation and we pay attention to Jesus’ comments. Perhaps we try to imagine the disciples’ confusion and dismay as they heard what Jesus said. After all, they may have been poor fishermen but they seemed to aspire to wealth.
You might engage the gospel differently if you imagine what would you say to the rich young man as he walked away. Would you commiserate with him, saying that Jesus asks a lot and that it’s a hard thing to ask of anyone?
Or would you condemn him as stupid and blind for refusing this opportunity: reminding him of the parable of the person who found a pearl in a field and went and sold all he had so he could buy the field (Matt 13:45-46)?
Perhaps you might suggest that he turn around and go back and tell Jesus that selling all his property and giving it to the poor is hard to do. You might suggest that he ask Jesus to help him see the value more clearly and help him make the decision. Perhaps you might tell him to talk to Jesus about selling his goods over a period of time and getting used to the idea of having less. Recommend that he ask Jesus if he will still be welcomed later. Tell him to ask Jesus what it feels like to give all you have to the poor. Advise him to ask Jesus to retell the Old Testament stories of Amos (Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 from this morning’s first reading) for the wisdom of sharing…. There are so many things that one could suggest to the rich young man.
A friend of mine was a senior marketing executive at Merck. He’d been promoted rapidly and was living in Switzerland with a big salary, a fast car, custom-made suits and world travel. About nine or ten years ago he found that this life wasn’t satisfying him. He prayed, talked to people he thought of as holy and a decision took shape over about two years. It took time for him to discern his path. Eventually, he gave his stuff to family and friends and sold the rest and gave the money to organizations that did good work. Seven years ago he entered the Jesuits. He wouldn’t say that life is perfect but he is happier now than before.
Selling what you own, and giving the money to the poor, and …. then following Jesus sometimes takes time.
That is what I would have told the rich young man.
- Many of Christ’s instructions are challenging. Aside from selling everything and giving to the poor, how about “Take up your cross and follow me”? What is the hardest thing Jesus asks of you personally?
- What did the disciples think of the young man as he approached Jesus? “Who is this fancy dude?”. “What is HE doing here?” “This is going to be interesting”? Something else?
- If the rich young man had gone back to Jesus and asked for some more help and guidance, how do you think Jesus would have responded?