Readings: Wisdom 7:7-11; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30
Let us have a look at the dynamic of this conversation the rich man has with Jesus.
The first thing Mark makes sure to tell us is that this encounter interrupts Jesus ‘setting out on the way’ (v17). It is not a teaching moment, but the man is concerned enough to find the Lord, kneel before him and ask him the question that troubles him, even when Jesus has other things to do. So, it is highly unlikely to be a challenge to his authority or an attempt to trick him.
Nevertheless, he gets off to a bad start—‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus asks (a confusing question in itself) and tells the man things he should know already. There is the impression of an interrupted activity. A correction to the man’s salutation, a quick answer rooted in everyday knowledge, that it is the commandments of God where eternal life resides. Life is ‘loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you’ Deut 30:20.
Where eternal life is not…is in riches.
‘No man can buy his own ransom, or pay a price to God for his life. The ransom of his soul is beyond him. He cannot buy life without end, nor avoid coming to the grave’ Ps (48)49:7-9.
And a couple of weeks ago, we heard James (5:1-6) being very clear about the destiny of the rich: ‘weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you’ (v1).
Yet, the rich man could be forgiven for thinking that riches are God’s reward for a good life, the life he insists he has led: ‘I have kept all these since my youth’ (v20). And to be fair, he does not mention his wealth at all. For the reward he seeks goes beyond his wealth and his righteousness, else he would not have sought out Jesus and found where he was staying. It seems as if eternal life cannot be found in his current life or even in the commandments.
‘Jesus looked at him and loved him’ (v21). Here is the first step to an answer for the man. After the hasty confrontation he still kneels, waiting for more – what comes beyond the commandments? And his continued search is illuminated by the loving gaze of Jesus. Will he see?
Here we begin to learn of his many possessions because they dull his ardour for the truth and turn him away, ‘being appalled at these words he went away grieving’ (v22). If only he had lingered to hear more words that Jesus addresses to the ones who have stayed, his disciples.
‘With men it is impossible, but not with God: because all things are possible with God’ (v27).
Here is the answer the man sought, how to gain eternal life. What must I do? That was the man’s question. What must I do?
How can we do anything? No wonder Jesus gives him a mundane answer – you have done the things you were given to do, the things you think you can do and still they have brought you to me.
The problem with the man’s wealth is that it stops him following Jesus (v21). It stops him staying to hear Jesus. It sent him away before he could understand, before he could know Jesus.
Knowing Jesus is eternal life – as he said himself to those who gave up everything, who followed, who stayed to the end. And they were blessed enough to be present at that last great prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper to hear why.
‘And, this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (John 17:3).
By Bruno Clifton O.P.