28TH SUNDAY, 2021: NOTHING BEYOND ETERNITY
Haven’t you seen families torn apart because of wealth? Haven’t you seen siblings become enemies to each other over an inheritance? Jesus reminds us today, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mk. 10:23) This statement is provoked by the man who approaches in the gospel with the question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The question of inheriting eternal life which all of us, not just this man should be asking on daily basis. This man is sincere, perhaps knows that there’s a hindrance in his life, some internal conflict between what he knows and what he needs to do. However, he comes to Jesus to see if he can get a spiritual bypass. In following God, there is no bypass, so Jesus refers him to the commandments. The language used in this passage is important. Jesus says to him, “You know the commandments.” Knowing, in this case, implies that this man operates only on the head. He is cognitively aware of what the commandments demand. For this reason, the man responds to Jesus, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” This man has been at the periphery, only observed from his youth, the bare minimum. He’s a box checker.
Discipleship is beyond mere observance of the law, rules, and rituals. It involves a deep, committed encounter with God, which this man lacks. He seems to have a hunger for spiritual growth but inhibited, sadly by his possessions. Jesus makes him an offer, gives him a spiritual lifeline, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” This is huge for the man. Selling what he has means detaching from material things. It means conversion and giving up earthly entanglement for what is eternal. Is he able to see how much his material wealth has diminished his relationship with God? He has been an observer all these years, but Jesus wants him to follow, to become a disciple. Sadly, he could not take the offer. His richness is an irony, he is rather sympathetically poor. To that, the man’s “face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
This man’s case is the exact opposite of what he is seeking from Jesus because he lacks understanding of the true treasure. Jesus reminds his followers, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matt. 13:44) Here is the irony. This rich man finds this treasure, gets so close to it but cannot take it. He’s blinded by his wealth, dwarfed by his possessions, and crippled by his insatiability. Instead of leaving with joy and excitement which this treasure produces, he leaves grieving. That is what material wealth can do to an individual once it possesses the person. This is illustrated by the case of the rich man who could not see poor Lazarus at his doorstep as he lamented to Abraham, “‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’” (Lk. 16:27) Jesus sees this man heading in the same direction and laments, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
Jesus looks at this man and loves him. What a great line! This look of love. Jesus looks at every soul with the most tender love and wants to enter into a deeper relationship with each soul. The rich young man loves money more than God so it’s the impediment for growing in his relationship with God. Have you considered what your impediment is with your relationship with God? He looks at you and loves you but what’s holding you back? Are you attached to anything more than God? An easy way to find out is to ask yourself what you think about the most. Are you able to contemplate God’s love for you? Compare your thoughts to other matters. Is it that promotion at work, a relationship, earning more money? Is it your kid’s grades or athletic ability? Finish this sentence about yourself “Go (fill in the blank) and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” What we do with our wealth, in whatever form it takes, is what matters. We’re not all called to do what the rich young man was asked to do but Jesus was inviting him to become a disciple and remove the impediment to their relationship. Cutting away his wealth would have made him supremely happy but the rich young man didn’t understand this. The point of this story is that God looks at each of us with love. He wants each of us to take away in our lives anything that take us further away from Him.
This gospel passage asks you, what impediments are there in your relationship with God? What would he ask you to remove in your life to grow more deeply in relationship with Him? Where is the true wealth in your life?
If we compare this man with someone like Saint Francis of Assisi, it becomes clear that joy comes not from possessing earthly wealth but in how much we are changed by the true treasure of heaven. Saint Francis, who was born into a rich Italian family, converted to the apostolic life through a vision of Christ while he prayed in a grotto near Assisi. Francis had an experience of poverty during a pilgrimage to Rome, where, in rags, he mingled with the beggars before St. Peter’s Basilica and begged alms; an incident in which he not only gave alms to a leper (he had always felt a deep repugnance for lepers) but also kissed his hand. God’s voice to Francis echoed, “Go, Francis, and repair my house which, as you see, is well-nigh in ruins.” This changed him completely. That voice is same as Christ speaking to the rich man in the gospel, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor.” He blew his chance while Francis renounced worldly goods and family ties to embrace a life of poverty. Francis became joyful and acquired for himself wealth in heaven.
The danger of material wealth is that it makes the individual anonymous as it defines the person. Significantly, the gospels fail to mention names of individuals each time we see an incident such as the encounter in today’s gospel. Mark simply identifies him as “a man,” and describes him this way, “for he had many possessions.” In Lazarus’ case, Luke describes the rich man as “a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.” It is sad to imagine how this man grieved when he left Jesus, anonymous and really poor. Could he have imagined his loss after all? I am thinking that Jesus would grieve more for this man for failing to take advantage of His offer. He just lost a glorious chance. The heart of God would grieve for him. This is the reason why Christ warned his disciples earlier, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mk. 8:36-37)