28 SUNDAY B 2012
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The Lord utters a strange reply.
“Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
How in the world does this answer fit the question? It has long been a difficulty for all Christian believers that Jesus should have questioned the title “Good Teacher”. Was not Jesus good and was he not God? Matthew already felt something of this difficulty, for in his Gospel he substitutes “Why do you ask me concerning that which is good?”
We have to realize that the young man approaches Jesus as a rabbi to whom he was attracted. The question Jesus might be asking is, “Why are you flattering me? Are you sincere?”
Here, in Mark’s Gospel story, it is a challenge to a radical decision in face of the coming of God’s kingdom. The renunciation of wealth is not an end in itself but only a precondition for following Jesus. This particular man has to renounce what was an impediment for him in order to obey the command “Follow me.”
It is the life of discipleship, not in itself the renunciation of wealth, that leads to eternal life. It is not enough to obey the Mosaic law in order to enter eternal life; beyond all that, it is necessary to follow him in the way of discipleship.
Jesus, seeing the desire for greatness within him, was trying to lead him to what would really satisfy his longing. The logic of Jesus' response would be: (1) Only God is all good. (2) You have called me good. (3) Maybe you are sensing the Godliness in me. Are you intrigued with my teaching and my way of life? Have you the courage to follow me? Foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head!
The story shows Jesus taking him through the essentials. Look, he says, you know about the commandments, don’t you? He expects that the man will say yes, at which point he can lead him further in the love of God.
The man says much more. “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” A wonderful answer. Jesus is pleased: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Jesus is carefully building faith in someone he loves: faith in God and in him.
So he tells the rich young man, lovingly, what the next step is. Our achievements are not enough. Our virtues are not sufficient. Even our keeping of the commandments seems not to be sufficient. His assumption was that everything could be bought for a price, including eternal life. As Barbara Brown Taylorhas affirmed, “no matter what we do, none of us earns eternal life. We can keep the commandments until we are blue in the face; we can sign our paychecks over to Mother Teresa and rattle tin cups for our supper without ever earning a place at the banquet table of God. The kingdomof Godis not for sale. It never has been; it never will be. The poor cannot buy it with their poverty and the rich cannot buy it with their riches. The kingdomof Godis a consummate gift.”
When the rich man realized this truth, it came as a shock to his sensibilities. All he had been taught was being challenged; all he had believed through all his life was being shaken to its foundations.
We are sad at not being able to let go of all the assets we once thought protected us and ensured our safety; for we now know that what we imagined was security is somehow bondage. Security has become prison.
In reality, we know we can never become safe. Try as we may to channel our infinite desires into retirement plans, we are haunted by our fragility. There is no insurance policy strong enough to prevent death. No health plan that can prevent the pain of our humanity.
This is why it is so difficult for a person with many securities, to enter the condition of blessedness. We must somehow become small, rather than big, to pass through the “needle’s eye.” The only way to heaven is to let go of earth. The only way to life is to let go of the womb. To be born into eternal life we must loosen our tight clutch on all the securities and gifts we hold so dear.
Christ says, “You are lacking in one thing. (FREEDOM) Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
“He went away sad, for he had many possessions.” Jesus must have been sad too. Simply put, possessions can control your life. They can become your life and your identity. They can halt ones assent to the highest values. Money offered the man temporary security but it was also a tether, holding him back from full and free commitment to Jesus.
Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen once said, “Money can buy the husk of many things but not the kernel. It brings you food but not appetite, medicine but not health, acquaintances but not friends, servants but not faithfulness, days of joy but not peace and happiness.” Ibsen understood that money and the acquisition thereof is not an end in itself. We can be sold counterfeit goods.. material things which give us pleasure but ultimately cannot satisfy the deepest longing of our hearts.
If selling all he has and giving it to the poor is what the rich young man needs to do to inherit eternal life, what about everybody else? Does everybody have to sell everything one has?
The solution to the puzzle is to think about the description of the man asking Jesus the question: he is the rich young man. His gifts lie in his wealth.
What are your gifts? An education, skills, listening heart, humor, music or still other things. What is your tether, holding you back from full and free commitment to Jesus?
Whatever a person’s gifts are, they are meant to be given back in service to those in need. You cannot bury your talent in the ground but spend your gifts in following Jesus. The point of the command is the acknowledgment of the priority of relationships of love and compassion over every other thing.
This is "God’s word (that) is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword," and this is the spirit of Wisdom of which the first reading speaks. God’s word is razor sharp, able to cut through our innermost thoughts. It can expose the inner motives and desires of our hearts. It’s this look of love that cut through and exposed his real self to the young man. Jesus’ “look” wasn’t one of harsh scrutiny. It was an inviting look. It was a warm and compassionate look that saw the man’s strengths and weaknesses and offered him the grace to become the disciple he wanted to be.