In today’s Gospel we are set another demanding challenge by Jesus.
As last Sunday, we have the difficulty of trying to apply Christ’s demanding teaching to our lives in a modern world so vastly different from his in first century Palestine. Most of his hearers came from poor backgrounds. In their poverty, they knew nothing of the relative comfort and prosperity in which we live today, even if we are up to our eyes in debt to fund our lifestyles.
The person who approached Jesus in today’s Gospel text is described as ‘a man of great wealth’. In modern terms he might not have had had enough to buy a football club or control of a £700 billion investment fund … but he’d have had enough to acquire most of the things that money could buy in those days.
He went to Jesus because he recognised there was a hole in his life that his prosperity could not fill. He felt that ‘something’ was missing. Perhaps he’d learnt that it’s not until you have it you realise money isn’t everything. He said to Jesus in so many words: ‘Look, I am keeping the laws of my religion that you have quoted (all about how we treat people) but I feel this is not enough. What more do I need to do to have this ‘eternal life’ you speak about?’
St Mark records that when Jesus heard this, he looked ‘steadily at him and loved him’. Jesus replied by saying: “Well if it’s perfection you are after, you must let go and find your security not in yourself and what you own but in something bigger And to do this you must put me first. But this will cost you nothing less than everything.”
Understandably, the man found this too much and walked away. Wouldn’t most of us do the same?
At this point Our Lord said something that shocked his hearers. The presumption in those days was that personal wealth was a sign of God’s favour, and the more wealthy you were the more esteemed you were in God’s sight. Jesus turned this belief on its head when he declared that it is ‘hard’ for wealthy people to enter his kingdom.
As I understand it, Jesus was saying that if your security in life is based on what you own and possess, then you have a false sense of security. Unless you ‘let go’ and abandon yourself completely to Him you will never have the ultimate fulfillment you desire. There is something of greater value to be gained than possessions and you will find it only in a relationship with Him.
However, Jesus recognized that not everyone can do this. So when the disciples protested that he was demanding too much, he added that while it might be impossible for us to make this sacrifice, ‘nothing is impossible to God’. That is, we are not excluded from his kingdom because of our inability to be a perfect Christian – we might not be able to reach up to God’s height but his hand reaches down to lift us up. To quote Oscar Wilde, our feet may be in the gutter but we can look up at the stars …
Nevertheless, the challenge from Jesus remains. So in response we might ask:
- What can I let go of in my life in order to become closer to Jesus?
- How do I become sufficiently detached from what I possess so that what I own does not own me?
- Do I really need all that I possess? Could I live with less?
- How many of the things that clutter my home or my life are truly necessary?
- Could some of what I own be put to better use than that sitting in property or in a portfolio?
- Could I be more generous in supporting the poor and the vulnerable?
- If I am not ‘well off’, could I give some time to helping a charity I admire to reach out to others in need?
Whenever Christ met someone who could not live up to the ideals of his kingdom, He treated the person with understanding and compassion. He did the same with the wealthy young man who walked away. (By the way, did you notice that it was the wealthy man who was looking for perfection and not Jesus demanding it of him?)
Many of us would love to be better Christians and do more good but our messy lives and commitments get in the way. Just as Jesus never walked away from anyone, he does not walk away from us when we fail to live up to the values of his kingdom. Nevertheless, his challenge remains.
Holy Name, Jesmond
10 October 2021