The Wednesday Midweek Eucharist may have been cancelled due to inclement weather last week, but The Rev’d Dr. Alain-Michel Rocheleau had prepared his sermon.
Today's gospel, although quite short, is complex and raises several questions. For instance, why is it that Jesus appears implicitly to reject the notion that He Himself is “good”, when He replies to the rich man: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (18)? Why does the rich man ask how to “inherit eternal life”? Is access to eternal life a question of inheritance? And how is it that verse 22, so important in the story that Mark tells us, is missing from today’s gospel? That particular verse specifies to the reader that, shocked by the words of Jesus, the rich man “went away grieving, for he had many possessions”. As it would be impossible for me to address all these interesting questions in a brief reflection this morning, allow me to make a few remarks about one essential element: the kind of relationship we should have with material goods.
In this section of Mark’s Gospel entitled The Rich Man, a man, who surely possesses everything that might, in a short-sighted human view, make one happy, seems to be animated by ardent zeal and kneels before Jesus. He feels that something is missing in his life, hence his question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mc 10: 17). This man seems to understand that eternal life, this precious commodity, cannot be bought. Moreover, he does not ask the price to pay for it, but rather how to obtain it. Jesus then responds by quoting six of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20: 1-17), which specifically concern human relationships. “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth” (Mk 10: 20), the man replies. This is a key statement because the problem with this individual, clearly religious and sincere in his quest, is that he truly believes he has fulfilled the essential conditions for inheriting eternal life.
Then Mark gives us a touching image of Jesus, who seems to have truly understood the man and his dilemma: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (Mk 10: 21). Our Lord loved him because the man had reached the end of what he could do for himself, the end of what money and the law could do for him, and then chose to take his spiritual quest seriously. This is when Jesus demands of him an incredibly difficult new requirement: “You lack one thing (He says); go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Mk 10: 21). In other words, Jesus asks the rich man to love Him more than his material wealth and to leave everything behind, thereby making God his ultimate source of wealth.
Let’s be clear: here Jesus does not condemn our need for financial security, wealth, or earthly goods as such, but he does condemn an exaggerated, idolatrous attachment to them. That is to say when we believe or imagine that our happiness depends on the number of investments or RRSPs that we have or when we believe that money alone can make us happy. In fact, the meaning of the term “rich” may have less to do with the amount of money one has and more to do with our attitude toward our material possessions. Some people have a lot of money but they are not slaves to it; others have very little but cling to it with desperation.
In the end, we find a rich man who cannot resolve his dilemma. He is no longer enthusiastic but “distressed”. Perhaps he judges the cost of eternal life as too high. He “went away grieving, for he had many possessions” (Mk 10: 21) Mark concludes. The rich man let slip, perhaps forever, the celestial treasure he had glimpsed through his interaction with Jesus.
What today’s Gospel reminds us is that eternal life, this thing that is sublime, cannot be bought or sold. To consider such a life as the true meaning of existence means to see our lives in their ultimate perspective, to find what is truly worthwhile and to follow Jesus, who is for each of us the only path that leads to eternal life.
The Rev’d Dr. Alain-Michel Rocheleau