Gospel Reflection on Mark 10, 17-30, by Fr Jason Smith LC
It struck me this morning while celebrating Mass that we ask God for mercy eight times. Are we really that bad?
If we think we are indeed pretty good, or at least on the correct path, today’s Gospel gives all of us enough reason to tremble, especially if we take Jesus at his word.
A young man approaches Jesus who has observed all of the commandments from his youth. The Lord raises the bar and asks him to empty himself of everything he owns. At least at this moment—we don’t know what happens later on—he does not have the strength to do so.
Then the Lord begins his demanding teaching on wealth: “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples can’t believe it or don’t want to believe it.
Jesus raises the bar even higher: “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.” In other words wealth compared to the Kingdom of God is like fitting a square peg into a round hole.
Still perplexed the disciples come back again. Seriously Lord? Jesus responds by raising the bar as high as it can possibly go: “For human beings it is impossible; only with God is it possible.” Yes, children, seriously. No wiggle room here.
Suddenly our eight petitions for mercy at the beginning of Sunday Mass seems remarkably few. Do I take Jesus’ teaching on wealth seriously? Have I applied it to how I live and to what I love?
I mean, do we pity those who are wealthy because without God’s mercy it is impossible for them to reach the Kingdom of God? If I get a raise or win the lottery or when I go shopping, do I do so with a little trepidation, taking into account that these things could in fact make it more difficult for me to enter the Kingdom of God? When we take into account that even the poorest among us today (at least in “first world countries”) are wealthier than the average person during Jesus’ time, where food, water, housing, and medicine was sparse, it makes us reflect on this teaching even more.
Why is Jesus so demanding on wealth? What could possibly be wrong with it?
The truth is that the more things that clutter our life the more our heart wants to cling to them and not to God. The more we chase after money the less we chase after God. Today’s Gospel reminds us of that. Even though goods and wealth are not evil in themselves, they will vie for first place before God. Jesus is asking us today, “Are you strong enough to keep them in second place?” In this sense we realize that there is a continual war for our hearts; they are in a sense “Battle Ground States.”
It’s important to make it clear that Jesus is not saying, “Blessed are those who are destitute.” Rather, he is calling us to a love-filled and sharing frugality and to a simplicity of life where our hearts are free to love God and neighbor.
Do we love God and neighbor more than the material things in our lives? If so we will be filled extraordinarily by God’s goodness in this life and the next. In the meantime, faced with Jesus’ demanding teaching, let us pray for mercy with all our being.
For a balanced and enlightening read on wealth, detachment, and poverty, especially for laymen and women, I wholeheartedly recommend Father Thomas Dubay’s book, “Happy Are You Poor.”