Lectionary #143, Gospel: Mark 10: 17-30
“The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The pointed message of these words from today’s New Testament epistle is proven true in the gospel that follows.
What makes the gospel reading so hard is its blunt warning to all of us who place value on things of this passing life over and above things of the Kingdom of God. To be sure, we are all probably doing pretty well through the first part of the gospel, as our Lord recounts the commandments “do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal…” and we think to ourselves, “well…so far so good”. We are getting ready to repeat with the man in the gospel “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth”, but then Jesus continues with the startling words “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Mark 10:20, 21). Now for most of us that last command is definitely sharper than a two-edged sword!
Jesus is not teaching us that money or possessions are evil, or that we all need to dispose of everything we own and give away the proceeds. He is telling us rather that in order to be his faithful disciples we must set our hearts fully on Christ and his Kingdom, which is not possible if we are attached to material goods. These things—money and property and so forth—are all good and necessary, and we need to make use of them regularly, yet far too often they become our masters, presenting us with temporary and passing illusions of happiness while at the same time edging us farther from our true joy.
Our response to the challenge which Jesus makes to the man in the gospel is to seek things of abiding value that lead us to God’s Kingdom. Two such precious things which direct us to the Kingdom are described in the earlier readings of the mass: wisdom (Wisdom 7 and Psalm 90) and kindness (Psalm 90). Wisdom helps us to discern between what is worth pursuing and what leads us away from God and his joy, and kindness is the manifestation of wisdom which draws us forth from ourselves and strengthens us to truly love our neighbors as brothers and sisters in the Lord, whether they are rich or poor.
When we seek after gifts like these, we find that following the commandments mentioned by Jesus becomes more natural since we are approaching life from a renewed perspective, seeing our ultimate treasure as living in imitation of Christ’s self-giving rather than in accumulation of wealth that corrodes or fades away. Once a person has taken on this new outlook, we can deal with money and possessions without being owned by them.
While our modern culture may find it impossible to find meaning in the wisdom, kindness, and detachment that should characterize Christians, our Lord notes that “All things are possible for God” (Mark 10:27). By the same token all things are possible for disciples of Christ who hear the gospel with ears attuned to the cry of the poor and the poor in heart, and who see the needs of their sisters and brothers with eyes enlightened by wisdom. Keeping a sense of circumspection regarding earthly wealth then, let us seek first Christ and his Kingdom so as to inherit the true the hundredfold promised by our Lord to his faithful.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.