October 10, 2021  

We read today a story about a man who asks from Jesus ‘Teacher’, “what should I do to inherit eternal life?”.  [It is common enough at this time that such excellent teachers as Jesus be suddenly met by a person asking help; the terminology ‘to do’ and to ‘inherit eternal life’ are typical Jewish ways of looking at the obedience necessary to reach eternal life.  To obey is ‘to do’ and ‘to inherit’ recalls that one is a child of God, and so an inheritor.]  Jesus’s answer is normal: keep the commandments, some of which he states explicitly.  

Now the story takes a turn.  When the man says that he has done all this (and thus apparently, he wants to know if he should do more), Jesus looks at him, ‘loves’ him and urges the man to follow him.  The man refuses Jesus’s offer, and is sad to do it.  Such is this story, a story which is really about this one person only.  Why does Mark recite this story, since it treats the invitation to one person only? [If the man says ‘no, thanks’, does that mean he will not inherit eternal life? Jesus has already indicated, it seemed, that keeping the Mosaic Law is what is required for salvation’; is he now adding ‘follow me’ as a new requirement to inherit eternal life? Is that the meaning of Jesus’s words, “One thing is lacking to you”?  There is no answer to this question, but then we recall that this is a story, not about all people, but just one – only one is asked to follow Jesus physically.  If indeed a new requirement for salvation is introduced by Jesus, it is asked only of this man.  But one can press further.  If the man refuses to follow Jesus, is he lost?  It seems not, since it does not presume anything but that he lost a precious opportunity to aid his salvation; he still can be saved, even if he refuses this offer.]  What we do know is that Jesus loved him, and that redeeming love would never cease or be in vain.

Mark’s point in telling his audience about this man lies in the one phrase, “Go, sell what you have…he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”  The purpose for Mark’s telling this story looks to the obstacle that kept the man from following Jesus to eternal life. ‘Possessions’ are an obstacle in that the man could not give them up so as to wander with Jesus to offer salvation to Israel.  ‘Possessions’ are not disappointing and failing; the man is disappointing and failing, because he preferred something else to going with Jesus.

In our day what does following Jesus mean for us in Gospel terms? To follow Jesus is to realize that there is more to being an authentic human being than having possessions. We must live like Jesus lived. We must be people of compassion and mercy, a healer and reconciler, someone who loves and embraces the broken and the poor like Jesus does the man in today’s gospel. We must live for others. 

When we approach the Lord, as the man in the gospel did, when we seek out the Lord and enter into a personal relationship with him, he will call out to us too.   What we cannot do on our own, we can do with the Lord’s help. The Lord’s grace at work within us can empower us to live as he is calling us to live.    


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Updated: October 11, 2021

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