The readings for Sunday, October 11, 2015, Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, are
Wisdom 7:7-11; Hebrews 4:12-13; and Mark 10:17-30.
The headline for this Sunday’s catechesis could be “Christians and Wealth.” First Mark reminds his readers that just like the preceding teaching on marriage, what he is about to teach by this story is also difficult. How does he remind them? By the opening statement, “As he was setting out on his journey.” The journey was to Jerusalem, and Jesus knew the anguish he was about to experience in the Holy City. Every Christian must make that difficult journey. Among the difficulties facing at least some Christians there is the issue of attachment to money, to property, to wealth. Mark treats this subject as follows. A man runs up to Jesus and kneels before him. He asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The word “inherit” would come naturally to a wealthy man who had much wealth of which he must dispose before he could enter “eternal life.” Here it is a synonym for Mark’s frequently used term “kingdom of God.” Although “kingdom of God” has many meanings, here it designates life after death. Jesus’ response to the question seems to convey annoyance, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God.” Mark already identified Jesus as Son of God at the beginning of his gospel. He implicitly identified him as God by attributing to him the divine name, I AM, but he also has a tendency in his stories to conceal Jesus’ identity until his death on the cross. That may be the explanation of Jesus’ strange response. Jesus lectures the man, “You know the commandments.” Then he lists the commandments that pertain especially to humanity rather than to God, no adultery, no stealing, no lies, no cheating of others, honoring parents.
The man claims to have kept all these commandments, “from my youth.” Because of the mention of his youth, some call this story “The Rich Young Man.” The fact that he was already wealthy and claims to have kept the commandments for some time would indicate not a youth but an older man. The elderly are more apt to be concerned about eternal life. Next comes the most important statement of this episode, “Jesus looking at him, loved him….” He loved him so much that he invited him to “sell what you have, give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.” Mark tells us that the man walked away sad, because he was very wealthy. It must be remembered that this good man who had kept all the commandments concerning his fellow human beings was not rejected by Jesus. He still loved him despite his inability to give up all he possessed. He could do more, but Jesus still loved him.
Now Mark adds an application to the story by developing it as Jesus’ private instruction to his disciples. “Jesus looked at his disciples and said, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.’” The disciples were astonished. In Judaism there was a long tradition grounded in the Old Testament that wealth was a blessing from God. Abraham was a very wealthy man. The hero of the Book of Job was extremely wealthy. Solomon’s great wealth was a gift from God. No wonder that Jesus’ hard saying caused astonishment.
Jesus reassures them that salvation is possible even for the wealthy, “Humanly speaking it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God.” The meaning of this statement seems to be that the kingdom of God, which we can call “eternal life” in this context, cannot be bought, no matter how wealthy a person might be. Eternal life is a free gift of God, both for the rich and the poor. Wealthy Christians are however encouraged or even obligated to share the gift of wealth with the needy.
In the final part of this gospel, Peter, spokesperson for all disciples, says to Jesus, “We have left all to follow you.” Peter had been a successful businessman on the NW shore of the Sea of Galilee. He claims to have left all for Jesus’ sake. Should there not be payback? Peter was still caught up in the concept of a political kingdom in which the disciples would play leading roles. The Marcan Jesus responds that those who leave family and wealth for him and for the gospel will be repaid 100% “with persecutions and …eternal life.” Mark writes soon after a persecution of Christians. Family life was disrupted by betrayals, imprisonment, and martyrdom. Survivors are promised a new family, the Christian community, with ongoing persecution, but the final outcome to the faithful — eternal life. Centuries later this story was applied to those who enter a religious community.