The Gospel reading for this Sunday (28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B) is taken from Mark 10:17ff. In this passage, Jesus is approached by a rich young man who asks Him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by reminding the man of the Ten Commandments, which the man believes he has kept as long as he can remember. Jesus then tells the man that if he wants to be Jesus’ disciple, he must go and sell all that he has, give his proceeds to the poor, and then follow Jesus. Upon hearing this, we are told that the man went away sad because he had great wealth.
As with all passages that are familiar to us, we can sometimes miss the fact that there is more than initially meets the eye...
In His reference to the Decalogue, Jesus only lists a few of the Commandments i.e.:You shall not murder (5th Commandment)
You shall not commit adultery (6th Commandment)
You shall not steal; you shall not defraud (7th Commandment)
You shall not bear false witness (8th Commandment)
Honor your father and mother (4th Commandment)
You may have noticed that there are a few Commandments that Jesus didn’t mention:You shall have no other gods before me (1st Commandment)
You shall not take God’s name in vain (2nd Commandment)
Remember and keep holy the Sabbath Day (3rd Commandment)
You shall not covet your neighbour’s goods (9th Commandment )
You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife (10th Commandment)
Now, our Lord may simply have listed only a few of the Ten Commandments as a shorthand way of referring to all of them. But as the Creator of the human psyche, our Lord is the Master Psychologist and I wonder whether His intention was “emphasis by omission” i.e. the man thinks that he has faithfully kept God’s law...but Jesus wants to lovingly show him how far short he actually falls, and then to challenge him to walk in the way of Christ.
Jesus tells the man that the one thing he lacks is to sell all that he owns and give it to the poor; and then to follow Him. The fact that the young man went away sad “because he had many possessions” tells us that this man was attached to his wealth. In other words, his wealth was his idol which was more important to him than God – thus he was guilty of breaking the First Commandment. In this way, our Lord points out to the young man that whilst he believes he has obeyed God’s command to love his neighbour, he has failed to love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Along the same lines, by omitting the Commandments referring to covetousness, I think our Lord was pointing out to the young man that he had a deeper problem of covetousness and greed, which St. Paul tells us is idolatry (Col 3:5). He then goes on to teach his disciples that it is impossible for a rich person to inherit eternal life when their reliance is upon their wealth.
Now, before we are unduly harsh in our criticism of the rich young man, we should pause and think about how this is relevant for us today. I think that we are ALL the rich young ruler. We may not think that we are wealthy, but if you consider what the average person living in the time of Jesus possessed, you would have to admit that we in the 21st century live in comfort and luxury. Even the rich young man in the Gospel would probably look like a pauper compared to what we possess nowadays. Think about it...You are probably right now reading this blog in comfort, on a readily available electronic device, with a high-speed broadband connection – need I say more...?
Jesus’ question to the rich young man should resonate with each and every single one of us. If Jesus asked us to give up all that we possess in order to follow Him, would we do it? Or would we, like the rich young man, leave our Lord albeit with a deep sadness? It is true that God doesn’t ask all of us to give up our wealth. But the heart of the issue is whether our trust is in the Lord our God, or whether we are placing our trust in our own wealth and strength.
If what Jesus said was true of the rich young man (i.e. it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven) – how much more so for us today whose wealth far exceeds that of Jesus time? Just as it was impossible for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ day; how much harder must it be in our day and age of technology and instant gratification?
But thanks be to God – this is not where Jesus ends His instruction. Yes – it is IMPOSSIBLE for the rich (that includes you and me) to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But Jesus tells us that for God ALL things are possible! Our wealth, no matter how great, is useless in the bigger scheme of things. It is God, and GOD ALONE, that is able to bring us to eternal life. And He does this when we are willing to let go of everything we hold dear...and cling to the Lord Jesus Christ as our only hope of salvation.
As an aside, given that the Year of Faith has recently kicked off, I thought I would add the following note on the matter of “faith”.
Most Protestant Christians hold to what is called “Sola Fide” i.e. they maintain that we are saved by faith ALONE. As Catholics, we would disagree saying that one cannot be saved by faith alone – rather, a person is saved by their faith AND works.
In terms of the passage above, our Lord’s response is one point of evidence against the Protestant notion of Sola Fide. If the notion of Sola Fide was true, we would expect Jesus’ response to the man to be more along the lines of: “Don’t you know that you are saved by faith ALONE? There is nothing that you can do to inherit eternal life”.
Yet, this is not the way our Lord responds. Rather, His response is to seek good works to prove whether the man’s faith is dead or alive.