28th Sunday in ordinary time – Mark – 10:17-30
There were many things going right for the rich young man in the narrative today. He was rich, he was young (Matthew’s gospel tell us so) and he was a man! That last word may sound sexist but in Palestine, that’s what went in your favour. Women would not even find a mention. And yet while everything sounds right and the narration seems to begin with pomp and joy, it fizzles out ending in a sad departure.
The rich young ruler (Luke’s gospel) has all things working for him. The problem perhaps was the superficiality in his desire to seek the truth. He wanted some ‘cool advice’ from this new rabbi on the block. A rabbi, everyone seemed to be talking about. His address, ‘good master’ is a bit unprecedented in the Bible which indicates that this greeting was effusive and obsequious. Jesus spots the fake praise right away.
‘Get on with it’ would be Jesus’ modern day reply. The flattery was evident and Jesus wanted to cut to the chase. There seems to be a sense of arrogance in this young ruler who thought that he could buy his way to heaven. You see, the problem is not rich people per se; Jesus is condemning the arrogance behind a rich person who relies on his wealth only. ‘What must I DO’, is the young rulers question; almost suggesting that his wealth could buy him a place in heaven if not that he had the power. Jesus does not respond with a ‘to do list’ to go to heaven. Jesus simply sates what the young man ought to have done.
Interestingly the young man’s claim is that he has ‘kept all these ‘from his youth. The all these being, a section of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) that Jesus mentions. But Jesus has not completed the list when he was interrupted by the young man’s boast. To his boastful claim of ‘keeping ALL these things, Jesus then adds the first and fundamental commandment. He does so in such an innocuous way that it leaves the young man shocked.
Jesus goes to the heart of the matter. The first commandment was that God alone is God and to love Him with all one’s heart and soul is the most fundamental of all the commandments. This young man had made money, his God. He worshiped his things more than his God and this was his ‘idol’ this was his sin.
Jesus’ command to sell everything and follow him was radical. For a Jew, wealth was a blessing from God and one who was blessed with wealth had an obligation to give alms to the poor. Jesus’ call to discipleship seemed to deprive this young man of his ‘God given blessing’ to wealth and the obligation to care for the poor.
This seems like an unreasonable demand, an excessive demand. But remember that it is the young man who seeks ETERNAL LIFE not temporary shelter. He wants the best, he wants the absolute prize and prizes don’t come free. Also, while Jesus’ demand of the man may seem extreme to us, it is certainly no less than the demand he places on himself. Jesus is walking to Jerusalem (‘The way’ – verse 17) to die for us and in doing that he is not just giving up his wealth but his very life for the world, including this rich man.
But here is the punch line! And Jesus strikes at the heart. “Sell what you own, give the money to the poor, your treasure will be in heaven and follow me”. Ouch! The young man, like most of us would rather DO than FOLLOW. Remember what he asked Jesus, “What shall I DO”. Following Christ, in not so much in ‘the doing’ than ‘in the BEING’. Christ wants us to be disciples first, so that we are with Him. If your being is good, you’re doing is good. How blessed are we if we understand this?
So, let’s not get the narrative wrong. There is no condemnation of wealth; there are enough texts in the Bible to prove it. The point is plain. It is hard for a rich man/woman to enter the kingdom of heaven when their riches become their God and idols, making the camel do the impossible!
Fr Warner D’Souza
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