In today’s Gospel selection (Mk 10:17-30), we find three sections: a narrative about Jesus’ encounter with a rich man, Jesus’ sayings about wealth as a possible obstacle to discipleship and Jesus’ promise of reward for those who share their material possessions with the needy. Reminding the rich man of the commandments that deal with relationships with other people, Jesus challenged him to sell what he had, and to give the money to the poor.
Jesus shocks the disciples with this challenge to the Jewish belief that material wealth and prosperity are signs of God’s blessings, while poverty and difficulties signal His displeasure. Instead, Jesus declares that true religion consists in sharing one’s blessings with others rather than hoarding them and/or getting inordinately attached to them. Jesus’ teaching exposes the shallowness of our own easy assumptions about wealth and raises questions about the real basis of our security and hopes.
The young man who came to Jesus claimed that, from his youth, he had observed all the commandments Jesus mentioned, including the fourth commandment. His tragedy was that he loved “things” more than people. He was trapped by the erroneous idea that he could keep his possessions for himself and still obtain God’s mercy. He failed to realize the fact that his riches had built a wall between himself and God. In other words, his possessions “possessed” him. Even though the rich young man had never killed, stolen, or committed adultery, he was breaking both the commandment forbidding idolatry and the one commanding love of neighbour. He worshiped his wealth more than God. That is why Jesus challenged him to rid himself of the attachment to wealth, wherein lay what the young man saw as his security and social status and trust himself completely to God by following Jesus.
We all have something in our lives that serves as a major obstacle to happiness and peace. We must recognize this obstacle and address it head-on. It may not be riches — it may be anger, holding grudges, alcohol, drugs, lust, apathy, lies, unfaithfulness, theft, or fraud. Let us invite God into our lives and into our efforts to face and remove that one obstacle to holiness. We have a decision to make whether to go away sad like the rich young man, or to follow Jesus and be happy. Let us choose happiness.
We need to follow Jesus on His terms, and not on our terms. This involves giving up whatever in our lives leads us to evil. That’s step one. Sometimes it may involve giving up things which are good. As parents, we might consider all the time and personal recreation and relaxation (all good things), which we have given up over the years for the sake of the children. As a mother or father who is also a disciple of Jesus Christ, this is required of us, and we make the sacrifice gladly. When we follow Jesus on His terms, there may be certain crosses to bear, but deep down in the core of our being there is peace, and there is joy, because we know that we are doing our best to carry out God’s perfect will in our lives.