28th Sunday B: October 10, 2021
Mk 10:17-30 or 17-27
By Rev. John Tran
The young rich man in today's gospel ran to Jesus full of enthusiasm and overflowing emotion. He began by calling Jesus ‘good,’ yet Jesus’ reaction seems harsh when he rejects the compliment, and says only God is good. Why did Jesus do this? He was really telling the young man to hold up and consider what he was doing. Jesus did not want flattery. He was bringing the young man back from an emotional response so that he could make a real commitment to Jesus, not just an emotional one. How often have we come back from a retreat or particularly moving church service and we are so devoted to God, and yet it wears off all to soon. So Jesus wanted the young man not to think with emotion, rather to realize the cost of discipleship. The man could not just have a devotion to Jesus as a human, but to look to God and see what being a disciple of Jesus meant in bring about God’s Kingdom. It is not good enough to be respectable which the young man’s wealth represented, but in doing things that would make God’s message alive and real. So Jesus challenges the man just as he challenges us: How much do we want to be a Christian, do we want it enough to be less than comfortable and stand up for what Jesus wants even if it is not respectable. The young man could point out what he had not done, but could not point to what he had done, like forget himself and do for others out of his surplus.
Jesus was not against this young man; he looked on him with love as he called more from him. He challenged him to be big hearted and generous, to go beyond being comfortable. And with his refusal, Jesus shared the man’s grief at not being able to go beyond his comfort, beyond his enthusiasm.
Next Jesus took his disciples by surprise by telling them not once but twice that it is difficult for the rich person to enter heaven. Like Jesus telling them that he was not the kind of messiah that they thought, here he demolishes one of the basic understanding of his Jewish disciples. The popular belief in the Judaism of Jesus’ time was that a sign of being blessed by God was by the amount of wealth a person had. If you were poor, then you were not so blessed. This turned the disciples world upside down again. While prosperity can bring relief, it also can bring danger. When we are too comfortable, we can get too wrapped up in material possession and they become obsessions. The wealth become the most important thing, and having it defines who I am, not that I follow Christ. If we have wealth, it is a test for us, Jesus is saying: it is the acid test to see just what our values are, and it bring responsibility to use it according to the gospel of bring about God’s Kingdom. What is God’ Kingdom? It is when those who are in need, or are powerless, or cannot do for themselves, when all these are really treated as a brother or sister in the Lord. As a church, we have been fighting making this a reality since the beginning. Salvation does not depend on our efforts. It is not what we have, or how much influence we exercise that is important. It is God’s grace which allows us to put ourselves in his hands and become the body of his Son that is, and use what we have for making his Kingdom come. Notice the similar ideas in the first reading from Wisdom, where the wisdom of God, the message of God is more precious than wealth, beauty, or even health. The second reading from Hebrews also shows God’s word as the most precious thing to have, that this word is alive and active, and holds each of us to account for our use of this word.
There is a story that Mother Teresa of Calcutta told that brings home part of the gospel for today. A beggar once came up to Mother Teresa on day, and said, “Mother Teresa, everybody’s giving to you, I also want to give to you. Today, for the whole day, I got only 29 cents and I want to give it to you.” Mother Teresa said, “I thought for moment: If I take it he will have nothing to eat tonight, and if I don't’ take it I will hurt him. So, I put out my hands and took the money. I have never seen such joy on anybody’s face as I saw on his -- that a beggar, he too, could give to Mother Teresa. I was a big sacrifice for that poor man who’d been sitting in the sun all day and he only received 29 cents. It was beautiful: 29 cents is such a small amount and I can get nothing with it, but as he gave it up and I took it, it became like thousands because it was given with so much love.” In this moment, this man becomes Christ's body.
The last part of this Gospel reading, verses 28-30, is about what we are to receive from being Jesus’ disciples. Peter declares, “We have left everything to be your followers.” Peter is really saying, what about us; what to we get for following you and giving up everything? Jesus says that anyone who gives up anything for Jesus’ sake will receive far greater than he or she has given up. But this may not be an easy way; there may be persecutions for embracing the way of Jesus. In fact a person may suffer for trying to bring about the Kingdom of God. Even so, the reward promised will still come in the life with Jesus in heaven. In early Christianity when a person gave up all to be a disciple, a member of the church, that person gained a whole new family, that is the Church itself. So a person had a family even if his own gave him up after he became a Christian. This church family was not just words, but a reality. But Jesus does call us to make this church family real and not just an idle gesture.
We must grow in love as we serve one another and those God sends us, we must go on loving and loving and giving and giving until it hurts, just the way Jesus did. Mother Teresa often urged people to do ordinary things with extraordinary love. Little things like caring for the sick and homeless, or reaching out to the lonely and unwanted so that the feel the human connection. By doing this, through us, they feel the connection of Jesus.