By Ed Little
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 10:17-31
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions — and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
“When Christ calls a man,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, “he bids him come and die.” Dying, of course, takes many forms. For Bonhoeffer, death was literal: days before the war in Europe came to an end, he was hanged at Flossenburg Concentration Camp. For most of us, the death that Jesus demands is less literal but no less drastic. Jesus calls us to die to self, die to our dreams, die to our prejudices and even to our self-defined convictions, die — as the central character in today’s reading learns — to possessions.
This unnamed character is spiritually earnest. There’s nothing superficial about his faith. He wants to do God’s will. “Good teacher,” he asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus dismisses the man’s obsequious use of the word “good,” but quickly reminds him of the commandments. But I’ve done all that for years, the man responds. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor… then come, follow me.’” Jesus has correctly diagnosed the man’s problem. He’s utterly attached to his possessions, and the cure is radical. Let them go, Jesus tells him. Don’t allow your possessions to dominate your life and your relationship with God. Tragically, the man is unable to embrace the cure. He “was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”
Jesus’ prescription is not a general one. It is specifically tailored to this man and his attachment. But the principle behind the prescription applies to all of us. To what do I need to die? What dominates my life? When Jesus says to us, “You lack one thing,” what must I relinquish in order to say yes to him? The story of the rich man challenges all of us to recognize the cost of discipleship.
The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II was bishop of Northern Indiana for 16 years after serving parishes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin. He is the author of three books; most recently: The Heart of a Leader: St. Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager (2020).
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Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Ankole (Church of the Province of Uganda)
Christ Church, Tyler, Texas