A man approached Jesus seeking to know what he must, “do to inherit eternal life” (Mk 10:17). Jesus shared that following the commandments, such as: do not kill, commit adultery, steal or bear false witness; do not defraud, but do honor his father and mother (cf. Mk 10:19), would be a good place to start. The man affirmed that he had followed them all. I can see the eyebrows of Jesus raise and his mouth curl into a smile as he realizes the sincerity of the man kneeling before him. The disciples recognized that look and held their breath.
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me” (Mk 10:21).
Jesus was not admonishing or condemning the man, he was loving him, and invited him to take the next step to fulfill the deepest desire we all have, which is to be one with God and one another. Yet, instead of embracing the invitation, the man was crestfallen. He had followed the prescriptions of Torah all his life, he felt he was blessed by God with the gift of having many material goods, but in the end it was those possessions that had enslaved him. He genuinely came seeking eternal life, and Jesus gave him just what he sought, and even more by giving him the opportunity to be one of his disciples, but he could not give up the one thing he was lacking.
The heart of the commandments is to help us to be freed from that which enslaves us, so that we can put God and each other first and foremost in our lives. This is what we all have been created for, as St. Augustine himself realized when he wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (St Augustine, Confessions).
May we return to this scene from Mark 10:17-31 today, and recall the image of the disciples and Jesus watching the rich man walk away sad. Slowly, we observe that they turn their eyes of invitation toward us. A bit hesitant, maybe, we too ask Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” What are we holding onto that is keeping us from giving ourselves completely to Jesus? Jesus looks at us, holds our gaze in his and loves us. Jesus then says, “You are lacking one thing…” What does he say next? What is our response?
Painting – close up of “Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler” – 1889, by Heinrich Hofmann