The message from this week's Gospel passage seems fairly clear, but a careful reading of the comments made by Jesus following the young man’s departure and the dialogue between Jesus and His disciples (Mark 10:23-27) reveals a deeper meaning which may not be evident to our modern eyes. It is not exactly an earthshaking difference, but it does add depth to what we think Jesus is calling us to.
The Old Testament generally gives the impression that God showed His love for someone by giving him land, wealth, numerous children, and a long life; in short, a very material view of success and happiness. The last chapter of Job is a good example of this (42:10- 17), but we see those elements indicated in many of the books in the Old Testament.
Jesus had none of these blessings with which God supposedly rewards those who love and serve Him. He leaves His home and family — He has no place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20, Luke 9:58), lives strictly on gifts, and has no family other than His companions (the disciples, the women who accompanied them, and those who sought the will of God in Him).
In that light, when Jesus says that the rich have a difficult time getting into heaven, the apostles “marvel” at His words and they are “overwhelmed” when He insists. Jesus is turning their world upside down, and for them this would in fact be truly earthshaking: if God does not show His love for us that way, what else can He offer us? They observe the rich young man, blessed with his wealth, while Jesus claims that he is actually burdened by it because he could not free himself of it in order to find his true blessing in God’s call to him to follow Jesus. They are astounded, dumbfounded.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” - Matthew 5:3
The very first of the Beatitudes is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). This is what Jesus calls the young man to, calls the disciples to, and likewise calls us to take to heart and live. Are we so attached to our earthly life that we say things like “surely God wouldn’t mind if I kept...”? And how would all the other Beatitudes fit with what Christ is asking in this passage — or fit even with the way that Christ Himself lived?
Jesus spells out what He is asking us to let go of, what we need to leave absolutely in God’s hands, so that we can cling more freely and thoroughly to God Himself, living completely in the hope that only the Spirit can offer us. Jesus says that we must give up home and family to follow Him, but curiously He also clearly promises that those who leave all behind for His sake will be rewarded for their sacrifice with a return of precisely all of that — even in this world and a hundredfold to boot.
And Jesus rounds out today’s reading with a promise of eternal life for the true seekers — which is just what the rich young man was asking for. The question is, as always, how each of us decides to respond to Christ’s call in our own lives — today.
CHAS KESTERMEIER , SJ
Jesuit Community, Creighton University