“Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor; then come follow me.” It is easy to hear Jesus’ response to the young man in this Sunday’s Gospel and think that he wants to take everything away. Such rigorous demands for discipleship suggest that life with God requires an earthly life of misery. In fact, Jesus teaches the opposite. It is death, not God, that takes everything from us. Living like Christ, even with the temporary struggles it might bring, opens our eyes to the abundance of divine providence and creates in us a life that will survive even the ultimate encounter with death.
‘Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.’ (Mk 10:21)
Is there some attachment that obscures your awareness of God?
How has divine providence increased your trust in
Some who spend their lives pursuing wealth find it very satisfying. The accumulation of goods can provide comfort, status, privilege and pleasure. People who amass fortunes by applying their talents can find their lives especially fulfilling; prosperity is their reward for the unique genius they share. Nonetheless, when death comes, everything they worked for is taken away.
To his credit, the young man in the Gospel did not explicitly equate his wealth with divine favor. Instead, he justified himself by pointing out his scrupulous adherence to God’s commandments. The works of the law are a tricky path to holiness, however. If an encounter with divine wisdom and love remain one’s steadfast goal, then the biblical law leads to God, as indeed it did for Jesus. Nevertheless, human vanity threatens this project at every turn. The temptation was ever present to follow the God’s law to gain the approval of others.
Eternal life requires more than just a pattern of good behavior; it requires a conscious commitment to God. This is the example Jesus gives. In every interaction, Jesus remains attentive to God’s presence and action. He follows wherever God leads, and, in every interpersonal encounter, acts only according to the divine will.
Jesus asks only for sacrifices like those he himself had made. An important detail, easy to miss, is the journey on which Jesus set out at the start of this Gospel passage. Mark mentions Jesus’s home in Capernaum several times in his Gospel (e.g., 2:1; 3:20). Much of Mark’s ninth chapter in fact takes place in Jesus’ house. But starting at Mk 10:1, Jesus sets out on the road, never to return. Jesus’ own total commitment was probably very much on his mind, and prompted his invitation to the rich young man.
On the road, God and neighbor cared for Jesus and his disciples. When Jesus taught them to fix their attention on God for their daily bread, he introduced them to the spiritual practice that had guided him. He had placed his faith completely in divine love, and it was that total commitment that led him to eternal life.
A life of pursuing wealth ends at death. A life of pursuing good works for their own sake can do so as well. Only a life spent, like Jesus’, pursuing the love of God regardless of the consequences, will leave something that survives the encounter with death. Our own resurrection is assured when we show God the same commitment to divine love that Jesus showed first.