‘Just give me a plan and let me get on with it. I’ve got money and I’ve got power and I can make things happen. Just tell me what to do!’ The rich man in today’s gospel is essentially a good man. He wants to know what he has to do to get to heaven. Note, he is not young (that’s Matthew’s version), he has kept the commandments from his youth. So, what else does he need to do? Interestingly, Jesus’ list of commandments leaves out the ones that make God the centre of our lives. But Jesus includes one commandment not included in the ten that I sang to you some weeks ago. Jesus adds, ‘You must not defraud’.
Perhaps the rich man had read Wisdom’s words from the first reading: ‘I prayed and understanding was given me, I entreated and the spirit of wisdom came to me.’ But perhaps too, he missed the part that explains that true wisdom costs absolutely everything, all our possessions.
Although the rich man wanted the kind of life Jesus offered, his wealth and possessions had such a grip on him, such control over him, that he was unable to accept Jesus’ challenge. Jesus invites the rich man to be a disciple and follow wisdom’s approach to life. The man went away sad because he wasn’t prepared to sell everything and give the money to the poor.
Mark tells us that Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him. Perhaps he saw something really special in him, someone after his own heart. So Jesus asks more of him than simply keeping the commandments —he asks him to sell everything and give the money to the poor and follow him in the mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God, that Mel sang about in our opening hymn.
Giving up everything is a very big ask! But as he did in last Sunday’s gospel, Jesus is holding up an ideal. Last week, as Sara explained, Jesus held up the ideal of being faithful in marriage for life and the ideal of being as detached from power and status as little children. The ideal of selling up everything and giving his money to the poor is all just too hard for the rich man and he goes away very sad.
Jesus then looks at the disciples. They are astonished at the difficulties and demands of living the gospel. Talk of a camel and the eye of a needle is a bridge too far for them. ‘Who can be saved?’ they ask. They want to know how they can enter the kingdom of God. Jesus is trying to get them to see that this way of living, of being disciples, demands total dependence on God. Everything is God’s gift! We can’t earn our salvation! Jesus assures them that all things are possible for God. The conversation between Jesus and Peter really shows how little Peter has understood (Mk 10:28-31). His focus is on how much he has done already: ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’
Jesus has looked at the man and he has looked at the disciples. Is he now looking at us? The second reading tells us the word of God penetrates to our very marrow. Can we feel that penetration now? Nothing can escape the sword-like cutting power of God’s word. It uncovers absolutely everything. Nothing is secret.
Nowhere in his teaching does Jesus say that being rich is evil. But wealth and possessions can sometimes get in the way of advancing the reign of God.
So today’s readings challenge us to take stock of our lives, from our material possessions to our independence. What are we unduly attached to? In a practical sense, what’s getting in the way of our love of God and our love of our neighbour (and neighbour today today includes all creation)? What will we do with our time, our talent and our treasure today, Support Life Sunday, to actually support life? Merely asking Jesus what we must do to obtain eternal life won’t work!