By Pamela Lewis
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?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You 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; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, 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.” 22 When 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!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It 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.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus 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.” 29 Jesus 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, 30 who 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. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
The rich young man in this well-known story reminds me of many of my students, who always asked, “What can I do to get an A?” Like them, the young man is earnest, shows Jesus respect by addressing him (on his knees, no less) as “Good teacher” (“Good Master,” in some translations), and he claims to have observed the commandments since boyhood. He should be a shoo-in to eternal life. Yet Jesus questions his sincerity by asking him in return on what basis he calls him “good.” As only God is good, the young man is in essence calling Jesus God. Does the young man know through personal experience that Jesus is “good,” or is he just parroting what he heard others say?
Very wealthy, the young man lacks for nothing; but he knows that eternal life is the one thing he needs to have and believes there is a right action out there he can “do” to inherit it, just as he has inherited his fortune. Jesus, being “good,” knows what that one thing is.
The young man’s reaction to the tough challenge reveals what Jesus already knows about him: he is currently too attached to his earthly wealth to follow Jesus, and that it is a barrier between him and treasure in heaven.
Though he knew that this man might not follow him, Jesus did not withhold his love, even in challenging him. Love is always at the core of Jesus’ words and actions, even when they are hard and mysterious.
Embedded in Peter’s poignant words, “We have left everything to follow you!” is the question as to how much are we willing to give up to follow Jesus. The answer may entail personal sacrifice, rejection by others, and being last rather than first. We cannot nor need to “do” anything special to inherit eternal life, but when we humbly serve others in Jesus’ name we will receive it a hundredfold.
Pamela A. Lewis taught French for 30 years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal, and The Living Church.
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