Following

This coming Sunday is the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time in Cycle B of the Lectionary. It is a familiar story as Jesus is asked by a rich young man. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?…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.” (Mark 10:17, 21-22)

Did you know that this is the only place in the gospels of Mark, Matthew, or Luke that Jesus is said to love (agapaō) someone. Then Jesus says, “give it all away and follow me.” When I have told Bible Study groups the uniqueness of this statement of love, it is not uncommon to hear a quip, “And this is love? I’ll take a pass.” It is said in jest, but…. all recognize that suddenly the high bar got very high.

Jesus notes that the man “is lacking in one thing.” But what? We are not told; we can only infer from what follows. Is he unable to sell all his possessions? Is he unable to give to the poor? Note that Jesus doesn’t say that he has to give all that he had to the poor. Is he unable to leave his worldly life behind and come and follow Jesus? Is he unable to do what Jesus asks because he has “many possessions” or because he is too attached to those possessions? What constitutes “many possessions” rather than having just enough? Hard to say, but the command to sell his property and to distribute the proceeds to the poor pointed to new status among the poor and helpless. Just the thought of that new status dramatizes the fact that man is helpless in his quest for eternal life.

Is this a general instruction for all? I would argue, no. It is addressed to this particular person in his wholeness of attitude and understanding about God’s will. Yet it is a demand for a piety that goes beyond the requirements of the Law. Lane [367] speculates that the “one thing he lacks is the self-sacrificing devotion which characterizes every true follower of Jesus… Jesus’ summons in this context means that true obedience to the Law is rendered ultimately in discipleship. This man will achieve the perfect observance of the Law when he surrenders himself and follows Jesus. Self-surrender implies a renunciation of his own achievement and the reception of messianic forgiveness through which a man is released to stand under the Law and to offer the obedience of love.”

…then come, follow me. The deepest answer to the question of v. 17, however, lies not in the command to sell all but in the call to follow Jesus.  The command to follow Jesus is an invitation to lay hold of authentic life offered as a gift in his own person. Jesus’ demand is radical in character. He claims the man utterly and completely, and orders the removal of every other support which could interfere with an unconditional obedience. The terms defined by Jesus clarify what “following” signifies (cf. 10:28), and indicate that Jesus himself is the one answer to the man’s quest for life.

…and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. The response could not have been more vivid and instantaneous. His tragic decision to turn away reflects a greater love for his possessions than for life (cf. 4:19). The call of the Kingdom of God includes a demand for unyielding self-denial (cf. 8:34). Refusing the call only serves to accentuate the greatness of the renunciation demanded and the uniqueness of the Twelve as those who had abandoned everything in order to follow Jesus.

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