“then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21b)
In today’s readings, the sureness of the kingdom of God is set forth alongside the uncertainly of who will participate in it.
In the gospel lesson, a man runs up to Jesus and, giving evidence of the sincerity of his heart, kneels before him to ask what he must do to inherit eternal life. He is eager to gain eternal life and uncertain of his status. Jesus responds by reciting the commandments that concern behavior toward others. His intention appears to be to draw the man out, since the man responds that he has kept all of the commandments since his youth — but, in spite of this admirable affirmation, he is still uncertain of entering eternal life. One can only imagine the shock to the man when Jesus informs him that he lacks only one thing — to give away all that he has and then follow Jesus.
The matter becomes one of intense costly immediacy for the man. Surely if he had any expectation about the answer to his question, he could not have imagined the one that Jesus gave him. He arrived expectant, sincere, and well-intentioned, but in a trice he is going away grieving. The question of eternal life has now become a matter involving everything he owns. When Jesus recognized the man’s sincerity of intention, he “loved him,” and in that love told the man what he must do.
It is easy to get stuck on the insistence that the man must give away everything he owns, but we must persevere through this startling fact to the consequence of obedience, “You will have treasure in heaven,” and the invitation, “then come, follow me.”
Was this an invitation to become a 13th disciple, or a more general call to be a follower of Jesus among the 70 or more whom Jesus sent out (on one occasion) two by two? We don’t know. We are also not told if “going away grieving” was the man’s final answer, or if his burdened rethinking of the question eventually led him to do what Jesus said he needed.
As we read these lessons, we must realize that we are not learning about someone else’s calling, but our own. After the man leaves, Jesus immediately teaches his disciples about obstacles to entering the kingdom of God. They are disconcertingly common to all humanity. It is powerfully taught in all the lessons for today, in one way or another, that God’s kingdom will be built. That is not a matter of doubt. What is in doubt is the place that each individual will have in its building.
Look It Up
What did Jesus say when the Gentile man whom he had exorcised begged to be allowed to follow him? See Mark 5:15-20.
Think About It
Reflect on Jesus’ teaching, as recorded in Matthew 6, in which he says several times about those who persevere in evil, “Surely they have received their reward in full.” How does this teaching match the theme of today’s lessons?