Too hard a demand from Jesus?

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 7:7 - 11

I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire. Beyond health and comeliness I loved her, and I chose to have her rather than the light, because the splendor of her never yields to sleep. Yet all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands.

Hebrews 4:12 - 13

Brothers and sisters: Indeed the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.

Mark 10:17 - 30

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother." He replied and said to him, "Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God." Peter began to say to him, "We have given up everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come."

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is one of the many hard sayings of Jesus. It is about renunciation – first, of material possessions and second, of relations (rf Mk 10:23, 29). The radicalism in breaking economic and human ties has always been received with averse reactions. It is even more so today when we are more easily connected to each other and the world. However, this radical demand does not lie solely in the act of renunciation, in fact, it lays out the essential condition of becoming Jesus’ disciple.

Jesus spells out three sequential and fundamental steps to the rich man for obtaining eternal life: sell one’s possessions; distribute them to the needy; become a disciple. In proposing such demand, Jesus makes it clear that discipleship is not only a costly decision, it also involves a total change of one’s attitude and lifestyle. Another radical aspect of this demand relates to the observance of the commandments. Part of the Jewish interpretation considered wealth and material goods are God’s favour earned through compliance with the Law, but Jesus declares that while it is true and indispensable to keep the commandments, it is not yet sufficient (Jb 1:10, Ps 128:1-2, Is 3:10). He challenges the rich man to “Go sell what you have . . . come and follow me” (Mk 10:21). To this, even the disciples themselves react strongly (rf Mk 10:26). And yet, as if it were not enough, Jesus also demands the renunciation of one’s closest natural relationships, even with oneself, that is, taking up one’s cross and losing one’s life (rf Mk 8:34-9:1, 10:29-30; Mt 10:37-39; Lk 14:27-33).

Why does Jesus make such an unthinkable and difficult demand to those who want to follow Him? In trying to understand this, we have to realize that there are two dimensions of life. One exists in time and space and is temporary – our life on earth. The other one is a different type of existence, a life belongs to the kingdom of God – the true and eternal life. The demands of Jesus are all based on the relationship with Him. It is in this perspective that renunciation and abandonment have meaning. Why? Because Jesus is the source and the giver of “eternal life”. The loss of everything is nothing in comparison with the loss of true life because even winning the entire world could not compensate for such a loss. To gain true life one must commit to be faithful and adherent to Jesus who promised a true treasure will be rewarded for those who do so for His sake (rf Mk 10:30).

Are Jesus’ demands addressed to the rich man and the disciples in His time only, or are we faced with a behavioral model proposed to all followers of Christ? How are we who claimed to be believers of Jesus fulfill such harsh demands? As plainly seen, the disciples at that time also felt the same, “Then who can be saved?” (Mk 10:26). Jesus’ reply reveals the omnipotence of God and the mystery of His grace, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible” (Mk 10:27).

With this remark, we should not be discouraged and let our vocation be lost, like the rich man whose “face fell and went away sad” (Mk 10:22). Instead, look at the ex-amples of the saints, the martyrs and our religious brothers and sisters who bore testimonies of God’s grace in their works, beginning with the abandonment of self and the world. So, to us and to any prospective disciples, with prayers, persever-ance and determination, let Jesus’ harsh demands pose no fear. Let them not be the obstacles to follow Him but let the radicalism of Jesus’ demands be the hallmark of our Christian life.

Posted: October 10, 2021

May Tam

 
May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)


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