Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me;
I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to sceptres and thrones,
and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her. Neither did I liken to her any priceless gem,
because all gold is but a little sand in her sight,
and silver will be accounted as clay before her. I loved her more than health and beauty,
and I chose to have her rather than light,
because her radiance never ceases. All good things came to me along with her,
and in her hands uncounted wealth.
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'"
He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."
Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age-houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions-and in the age to come eternal life."
At first sight the young man comes across as an exceptionally good person, deferential to Jesus and somehow searching for the way to eternal life. He had kept God's commands since his youth, and Jesus looked on him with love. An ideal person, you would think, to receive the gospel. And yet Jesus wanted to show him something about himself of which he was totally unaware. He was owned by his own wealth, and it had a stronger grip on him than he had on it. Jesus invited him to become free of it, but the cost seemed too just too high. "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
There is nothing wrong with money as such, or even with being wealthy. Some of the world's greatest people who did most for the welfare of humanity, have been wealthy people. But at a deeper level the fact is thatI own nothing, absolutely. My hold on things is provisional, temporary. A sudden stroke, a brain haemorrhage or a heart attack, and I am separated forever from all my worldly belongings. "There are no pocket in the shroud." Apparently there was a narrow entrance at the side of the temple called the "needle." It is wide enough for a camel to pass through, but only if the load was removed from the camel's back. With the panniers of goods the camel normaly carried on either side, it would be impossible to pass through the Needle gate. How hard it is for people who are weighed down with money and ambitions to enter the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom belongs to children. It belongs to the poor in spirit; not so much economically poor, but detached from riches in their inmost spirit. For a worthy cause, they can part with their wealth.
Then there are some who give up everything to follow Jesus. He doesn't call everybody to do this. He didn't ask Lazarus or his sisters to leave home and follow him. But being a follower of Jesus does mean having to leave something. It involves a change of priorities, a new way, valuing things, an interest in the riches that are stored in heaven, "where moth cannot consume, nor rust corrode." Those who leave everything to follow Jesus are among the most blessed of people, dedicated souls like Padre Pio, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, aid workers in places torn by war and disease, and many other unsung heroes. Such people are blessed with the riches of God's grace, and bring much blessing to the lives of others.
African hunters have a clever way of trapping monkeys. They slice a coconut in two, hollow it out, and in one half of the shell cut a hole just big enough for a monkey's hand to pass through. Then they place an orange in the other coconut half before fastening together the two halves of the coconut shell. Finally, they secure the coconut to a tree with a rope, retreat into the bush, and wait. Sooner or later, an unsuspecting monkey swings by, smells the delicious orange, and discovers its location inside the coconut. Slipping its hand through the small hole, the monkey grasps the orange, and tries to pull it through the hole. Of course, the orange won't come out, since it's too big for the hole. But the persistent monkey continues pulling and pulling to no avail , never realizing the danger it is in. While it struggles with the orange, the hunters approach and capture the monkey in a net over. Looking on, we could see that as long as the monkey keeps its fist wrapped around the orange, it is trapped. The only way to save its life is to let go of the orange and flee.
Seeing the monkey struggling to get the orange while the hunters are closing up on it, an animal-lover would shout to make the creature abandon the stupid orange and run for dear life. This is rather like what Jesus advises the rich young man. He sees him in danger of losing his chance for eternal life on account of his fixation on money. So he advises him to turn his back on wealth and save his life. Why did the choice have to be so stark? Mark say it is because "Jesus looked at him and loved him" (10:21a). The advice of Jesus often seems hard to follow but it is always meant for our own good. It will change our way of thinking if we realise that these are the words of someone who loves us and who knows better than we can do what can lead us to eternal life.
The rich young man is like the monkey tragically clinging to the orange when its very life is in danger. So Jesus suggests another way to him: "Go and sell what you have, and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." But the young man finds this teaching a hard pill to swallow since, like many others, he believed his wealth was a sure sign of God's blessing. Even today the "prosperity gospel" is widespread: the belief that wealth is a sign of God's approval, and poverty and hardship a sign of God's disapproval. Therefore when Jesus said how hard it would be for rich people to enter the kingdom of God, his disciples were astonished and asked, 'Then who can be saved?'" (v. 26). The real gospel challenges the prosperity gospel for God's love can go hand in hand with material poverty. In fact, voluntary, dedicated poverty can be a way of responding to God's love. Materialism is the belief that without wealth life is meaningless. The rich young man was a materialist at heart. We can pray today to have more wisdom than the monkey, and avoid materialism in all its forms. For what is the use of to gaining the whole world and lose our life in the process?
Jesus gave his full attention to people who turned up out of the blue, wanting to talk to him. Here we are told how he was setting out on a journey when a man ran up and put the question to him, 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?' At this point Jesus was on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, on the most important journey of his life. The unexpected arrival of this man with his burning question delayed him from setting out on his planned journey, but Jesus gave him his undivided attention. The needs of the present moment were all important to Jesus. What he himself had planned to do took second place to the call that was made on him in the here and now. Jesus teaches us to take seriously the call of the present moment. The person who turned up out of nowhere needed advice and Jesus responded, even though the unexpected interruption cut across his own plans. The call of the present moment can take all kinds of unexpected forms for us, and, yet, it is there that the Lord very often meets us and we meet him.
The man raised an unexpected question, 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?' Jesus replied with an equally unexpected invitation to this man, 'Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor— then follow me.' There is nobody else in Mark's gospel who receives such a stark call from Jesus. This is what the Lord was asking of this person, here and now. His reaction to this call of Jesus shows how unexpected it was. Whereas he had run up to Jesus, breathless, with his burning question, 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?' when he heard Jesus' answer we are told that 'his face fell and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.' His excited coming to Jesus only resulted in him sadly walking away. The call of the present moment was too much for him to hear, and his refusal to hear it brought him sadness of heart, a heaviness of spirit. He was so attached to his possessions that he couldn't let go of them, even though following Jesus was his particular calling in life. In the words of today's second reading, the words Jesus addressed to him were alive and active, cutting into the young man's core like a two-edged sword.
If we approach the Lord, if we seek to enter into a personal relationship with him, he will give us our calling too. His particular call to us may not be what the man in the gospel received. However there will be a similarity too. It will always be a call to give ourselves more fully to the Lord's way, letting go of whatever is holding us back from living according to the values of the gospel that Jesus proclaimed and lived. His call to us will be to do whatever we need to do in order to walk in his way more wholeheartedly. There will be moments when we hear that call very strongly — perhaps when we are least expecting it. If the particular call the Lord makes on us seems daunting, we can find reassurance in his words to his disciples, that 'everything is possible for God.' What we cannot do on our own, we can do with the Lord's help. The Lord's grace at work within us gives us power to live as he wants us to live.