A rich man comes to Jesus and asks: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10: 17). Please do not stop reading just because you are not rich. And, if you are rich, please don’t feel set upon. As I hope we discover, the matter of wealth is not the main point in the story. But if you are worried about all your riches, I can put them to good use!
Jesus gives this man a standard answer, He tells him to keep the commandments. For whatever reason, and we cannot judge his motives, the man protests that he has kept the commandments since he was young. He may have felt vindicated at this point and you and I may feel the same. Isn’t it enough to keep the commandments? Doesn’t that mean we are good people? But this conversation with the rich man is only beginning to take shape and it is Mark’s version that is most important for our spiritual growth. In the other Gospels (Matthew 19: 16-22 and Luke 18: 18-23) Jesus looks at him and then tells him to give up everything and follow Him.
However, in Mark’s recounting of the story it says: “Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him” (Mark 10: 21) and then invited him to give up everything. The phrase that is added makes all the difference in the world. It is the basis of a healthy spiritual life. I dare say without the reality of the loving gaze of Christ, Christian spirituality is reduced to guilt and remorse. Let us look at this more closely.
It says that the man went away sad because he had great wealth. The sad thing about this man was not that he was wealthy or that he was attached to his wealth. The sad thing was that he missed the loving gaze of Christ. Had he been able to accept Christ’s love, everything else in his life would have taken second place. He went away sad.
It is useless to speculate about this man’s motives for approaching Christ in the first place or to try to figure out why he could not accept the love of Christ. What may be very helpful to us spiritually is to put ourselves in his shoes and talk to Christ. For the most part we can say we have kept the commandments even though we know we are not perfect. We want to do the right thing and we want to inherit eternal life. So we might face this important question: “Can you live under the loving gaze of Christ? Can you accept Christ’s love? Have you accepted Christ’s love? Not just His love for all people but His love for you.
If you have not been able to do this, your spiritual life is impoverished and you are selling yourself short as a Catholic, a Christian. At the heart of the spiritual life are not rules and regulations. At the heart of the spiritual life is the startling truth that God loves us. What does John say in his first epistle? “This is the love I mean: not our love for God but God’s love for us when He sent His Son to be the sacrifice that takes away our sins … We are to love then because He loved us first” (1John 4: 10, 19). The spiritual life is not about what we do for God. It is about accepting what God does for us.
After the man went away sad, Jesus spoke to His disciples: “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter into the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10: 23). As if this isn’t discouraging enough, Jesus says it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. Again, we should not focus simply on those who have wealth here, challenging and relevant as the reading is for the wealthy. The issue is not wealth. The issue is love. And this issue at first is not about our love for others. The issue is about God’s love for us. God’s love is the basis of the spiritual life and of our love for one another. The rich man went away sad not because he had a lot of possessions but because he could not accept the loving gaze of Christ. That can be true of us whether we are wealthy or poor.
May the Lord give you peace.