"Spiritual formation cannot be forced, only prepared for. Hence its means cannot be those of conquest, but only of facilitation and preparation." [Adrian van Kaam, Studies in Formative Spirituality, I, 2 (1980), 303]

Gospel for the Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (14 October 2018)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

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?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 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.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 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.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

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!” 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! 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.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:17-27 – NRSV)

Introductory notes

General

See also Matthew 10:16-30 and Luke 18:18-30. However, whereas Mark calls him a man, in Matthew it’s a young man and in Luke a rich ruler.

Mark continues his journey motif – see also 8:27; 9:2, 9, 14, 30, 33; 10:1. Jesus is still in Judaea, on his way to Jerusalem.

Specific

what must I do to inherit eternal life?: Interestingly enough, this comes from an anonymous bystander rather than from one of the disciples. However, we must note the particular emphasis in the man’s question: “What must I do .... ?” Whilst this is a very good question it is by no means the most important question. It is much more important to know God and what God has done and is doing. The kingdom is God’s kingdom, not our kingdom.

Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone: Jesus draws the man’s focus back to God and away from his own behaviour.

You know the commandments: This switch to the ethical demands of the Commandments should be heard in the context of the “God alone” statement. In other words, whilst it is good to be ethically upright, it is not enough and it is certainly not the essence of what is on offer in the kingdom. Recall Paul’s admission in Philippians 3:6: “as to righteousness under the law, blameless”. The centre of the fully human life is not the human being but God. Christian holiness is much more than ethical behaviour, valuable as that is. The Covenant is ultimately about the goodness of God. In the kingdom, that goodness will be manifest in and through us all.

Jesus, looking at him, loved him: Jesus did not look on hypocrites in that way. It seems that Jesus had a genuine affection for this man. One commentator writes: “Jesus is not being deceived by the rich man. He sees inside him and ‘loved him’. The word for ‘love’ (Gk. agapan) is the highest form of love in the NT, meaning love that characterizes God and of which God is worthy. There must have been something rare and admirable in the man, for of no one else in the Gospel does Mark say that Jesus ‘loved him’” (J R Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002, 312.)

You lack one thing: Even this man of moral integrity – whom Jesus “loves” – still “lacks one thing”. Recall the incident with the children immediately before this encounter: “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it’. And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them” (Mark 10:13-16 – ESV). Jesus has already answered this man’s question: “To such belongs the kingdom of God”. We cannot assume that it is the moral integrity of the children that Jesus commands. We must assume it has something to do with their innocence and vulnerability, their trust and their openness. In other words, the kingdom is God’s gift not our conquest – by moral or any other means.

Follow me: What the man seeks – though he does not yet know it – is right before him. It is Jesus. This is an awakening that has not yet dawned, however. Perhaps, if Jesus had given him something challenging to do without being so utterly vulnerable – for example, say some extra prayers, give away a little of his wealth, make a special pilgrimage to Jerusalem – he might have been happy with that. One commentator writes of Jesus’ teaching through the parables: “The parables of Jesus seek to draw one into the Kingdom, and they challenge us to act and to live from the gift which is experienced therein. But we do not want parables. We want precepts and we want programs. We want good precepts and we want sensible programs. We are frightened by the lonely silences within the parables” (John Dominic Crossan, In Parables - The Challenge of the Historical Jesus, Harper and Row, 1973, 82.)

Reflection

Recall the beautiful scene from the end of last Sunday’s Gospel: “‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it’. And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them” (Mark 10:14-16). Today’s Gospel follows on immediately – see Mark 10:17-27. Jesus, having told his audience, “(it is) to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs”, hears the rich young man ask, in effect, “To whom does the kingdom of God belong?” Was this young man not paying attention? Perhaps he was not there to witness Jesus with the children? In any case, the contrast between the two moments manifests a deep misunderstanding – even ignorance – of what is on offer when Jesus proclaims his kingdom. This deep misunderstanding and ignorance runs through the Gospel and, yes, through the history of Christianity to the present day.

It seems unreasonable to assume that it is the moral integrity of the children that Jesus commands. Rather, it does seem reasonable to assume it has something to do with the children’s innocence and vulnerability, their trust, and their openness. In other words, the kingdom is God’s gift not our conquest – by moral or any other means. The Love of God – the kingdom – is not merited or earned, it is given unmerited and unearned. Our task – and it is a very difficult task that requires persistent, hard work – is to get out of the way and let God be God in us and through us! Thy kingdom come! It is God’s kingdom, not ours.

What the rich young man seeks – though he does not yet know it – is right before him. It is Jesus, the incarnation of the Living God, the Source of all Truth, Beauty, Goodness and Love. This is an awakening that has not yet dawned for the young man. Perhaps, if Jesus had given him something challenging to do without being so utterly vulnerable – for example, say some extra prayers, give away a little of his wealth, make a special pilgrimage to Jerusalem – he might have been happy with that. That such a request would have nurtured his ego rather than his relationship with Jesus would probably have gone unnoticed.

One commentator writes of how Jesus teaches about the kingdom in his use of parables: “The parables of Jesus seek to draw one into the Kingdom, and they challenge us to act and to live from the gift which is experienced therein. But we do not want parables. We want precepts and we want programs. We want good precepts and we want sensible programs. We are frightened by the lonely silences within the parables” (John Dominic Crossan, In Parables - The Challenge of the Historical Jesus, Harper and Row, 1973, 82).