“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Mk 10:17
Imagine if you came across an old map to some long-lost treasure which adventures and explorers have been seeking for generations. What value might this knowledge give you? What dreams might this treasure fulfil? And how closely will you follow the details of the prescribed route in order to be the one who takes ownership of its riches? In today’s Gospel reading, Mark describes a rich man’s encounter with Jesus, who begs the question; “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” to which Jesus answers “follow the commandments and one more thing,” “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Mark then tells us that “the man’s face fell and he went away said because he had many possessions.” Mk 10:22. Jesus gives this rich man a map to Heaven, however this knowledge is not of value to the rich man; he values his possessions even more.
Jesus continues by saying, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” This statement is troubling to the disciples; they were amazed! Jesus had just told them that the wealthy would not easily enter into the kingdom of heaven. There was a strong belief in ancient Judaism that material wealth was a sign of God’s blessing and favor. But here Jesus was telling the rich man to join the ranks of the poor, and he could not bring himself to do it.
In our modern day too, this is a hard message to receive, especially because in our country we have so much. We are a highly literate and educated society relatively speaking; most particularly when compared to the rest of the world, and our earnings reflect this reality. Many of us pursue high powered, high reward careers which enable high incomes; and this requires noble virtue like dedicated study, sacrifice and hard work to achieve. How can this be wrong? Take heart though, Jesus is not condemning the man for being wealthy and he is not condemning anyone today for being successful. The opposite is true, Mark explains that Jesus, looked at him (the rich man) and loved him, Mk 10:21. Jesus did not reject the rich man, the rich man rejected Jesus. Why? Because he loved his possessions more. What Jesus wanted from the rich man was his surrender and the surrender of those possessions that kept him from following Jesus. There is nothing sinful in being wealthy, so long as it was amassed by honest and legal means. The problem here is putting one’s possessions first before God; loving money more than loving God. The danger is allowing material wealth to come between our relationship with God; valuing earthly treasure more than the Heavenly Treasure.
There are other possessions that are just as cherished as wealth and money that can also keep us from inheriting eternal life; if we chose not to surrender them as well. Plenty of people are affluent in vice; they love the bottle, or they embrace every selfish desire. Others stockpile up things like resentment, unforgiveness, jealousy, bitterness and pride. They store them up in their innermost self like a precious treasure; keeping watch over them so that they are not lost or stolen. And worse yet, others hoard their time. They may or may not offer one hour to the Lord on Sundays but will not surrender a single minute to the service of the community or in service to others.
Reflect today on the possessions in your life that might kept you from the Kingdom; surrender them, whatever they are, and follow Jesus.