28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – 10th October 2021 — Gospel: Mark 10,17-30
Goal versus Means
The Gospel of Mark offers a non-descriptive characterization of the man approaching Jesus. Whereas Luke characterizes him as a ruler, Matthew portrays him as a young man. This anonymous character reveres Jesus as a teacher, seems to be a wealthy and pious observant of the Law. Further, the wealthy man appears to be devout, sincere, attentive, and open-hearted. In fact, he serves as a contrasting character that puts to the test the elements of ideal discipleship. He’s the only person in the entire Gospel of Mark singled out as being loved by Jesus. Jesus does not treat him as insincere or mock him as self-righteous, but rather loves him unconditionally. And this one dearly, uniquely loved person just walks away, “disheartened” and “sorrowful.” Nevertheless, the Gospel presents that the closest disciples had left everything behind (10,28) and that “everything” includes house and household, family, and belongings (10,29).
The man in this parable has the right goal – to inherit eternal life, to enter into God’s kingdom, to live fully in communion with God. He also sought guidance from the right person: Jesus himself, the Son of God, the Lord of history. He continues his claim stating that he had observed all the commands from his youth and Jesus does not challenge his claim either. Yet, this man was unable to accept the answer he received about how to reach his worthy goal. He wasn’t willing to put in place the means that would allow him to achieve the end he wished for. The ancient spiritual writers call this as imprudence or sloth. Prudence, the charioteer of the virtues, is about choosing the right means to achieve worthy goals. Another name for prudence is wisdom. We can be wise, if only we humbly turn our minds to what is truly good, and courageously reach out our hands towards it.
The rich man’s question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” hints at a deeper answer. Inheritance is more about belonging to a family than earning something. This explains what is going on in vv.28-30. Leaving everything and following Jesus, as Peter says the disciples have done, brings them into a new family. This household of God is an incredibly rich present reality, but one that is marked with persecutions and challenges. It is also a future reality characterized by the fullness of life where first and last will no longer have any relevance. With regard to salvation, the wealthy have a bigger challenge than that faced by anyone else. However, Jesus says, “with humans it is impossible but not with God, for everything is possible with God.” (v.27).