28th Sunday - B - 2018 Wisdom 7: 7-11; Hebrews 4: 12-13; Mark 10: 17-30.
Throughout the centuries, we the followers of Jesus, and especially theologians, have developed different theories about the ministry of Jesus. We have tried to figure out exactly what he did and why he did it. Well here in this passage (oft-misquoted) Jesus tells us what he is about.
As a child I was taught that Jesus came to help us get into heaven. Then later, when I studied the Scriptures, I discovered that Jesus rarely spoke about that issue. To-day's gospel reading tells us more.
The rich man's question is as simple as Jesus' answer. 'What must I do to inherit eternal life'. That's the same as asking, 'What do I have to do to get into heaven'? As a good Jew, Jesus responds, 'You know the commandments....' Then when the man assures Jesus that he he's 'observed all these from my youth', the logical indication is that he is safely on his way to heaven.
But then Jesus starts talking about something the man lacks - not something that would prevent him from reaching heaven, but as the narrative proceeds we see that Jesus is speaking about entry into the Kingdom of God.
From Chapter one of Mark's gospel that subject of the Kingdom of God - it's what Jesus speaks about and before anything else. And he emphasises that it is so close that anyone can reach out and touch it. The Kingdom of God refers to God working effectively in our everyday lives.
The historical Jesus presumed that good people were already on the their way to heaven. But his goal was to help everyone experience God in every person and circumstance of their lives - and before they stepped into eternity. Jesus believed that it was a lessening of the potential of a human life simply to concentrate on what God will do for and with us beyond this life. Far more important is how God is already present and working in our life right here and now. It is a tragedy to ignore that truth.
Here, as in many other situations, Jesus is emphasizing that one must do more than keep rules and regulations in order to step across the line into God's kingdom. There must be a 'metanoia' - a total change of one's value system.
Jesus concretises that change for the rich man, 'Go and sell what you have; give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me'. But it is this complete shaping of life that this man cannot bring himself to make. He simply cannot make people more important than his wealth. Then not being able to make that commitment, the rich man walks away. And Jesus experiences real sadness.
The whole incident and Jesus' words are not lost on his followers. They point out that the commitment Jesus asks for is normally impossible for a wealthy person to make. Jesus has to assure them that God will help. Only with God's assistance can we come to 'experience God's kingdom in the here and now.'
We have done a real disservice to the historical Jesus by reducing his ministry to simply learning how to avoid hell and get into heaven. When Jesus speaks about 'being saved', he is referring to the quality of life he wants us his followers to experience right here and now.
In the second reading for to-day from the Book of Hebrews, the author refers to the 'living and effective' words of God. Jesus dialogue with the rich young man would certainly be such words - they cut if you take them to heart and act on them; they cut if you refuse to carry them out. No one attains or has the experience of real living without experiencing a radical change in one's value system.
Perhaps the historical Jesus' ministry could be summed up in answering three questions.....
What do you and I want out of life?
Where do you and I get it?
How much does it cost?
Perhaps Jesus never expected his followers to be more than a small minority in the community!? Everyone wants to get to heaven. But only a few are willing to pay the price of beginning that heaven NOW.
Kinda makes we wish for the good old days, when all I had to worry about was entering the pearly gates by faithfully obeying all those rules and regulations. But such wishing is day-dreaming!!