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 imagine 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).
The man was crushed. He had followed the prescriptions of Torah all his life, he was blessed by God with the gift of having many material goods, but in the end it was those possessions that still enslaved him. He genuinely came seeking eternal life, and Jesus gave him just what he sought, and 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, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (St Augustine, Confessions).
The man in today’s Gospel account knew what he needed to do, but was too attached to his wealth and material things to let them go. He walked away sad, because he clung to the false substitute of wealth that would not ultimately satisfy him. The man turned away from that which would fulfill him, give his life meaning, as well as the promise of eternal life. This was the path of love, to give and share, and to become a follower of Jesus.
I invite you to return to this scene in Mark 10:17-31, read it slowly, and prayerfully. Then set your Bible aside. Next, visualize each of the details of this account of Jesus and the man. Place yourself in this scene also, standing a few paces behind Jesus and the disciples as the rich man walks away with his head bowed. Their backs are to you, but then, slowly, they turn to face you.
A bit hesitant, your eyes focus on the eyes of Jesus. You feel his invitation without a word spoken between you, and you ask, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus holds your gaze in his, and you feel his acceptance and love as he speaks, “You are lacking one thing…” What does Jesus say next? What is your response? What are you holding onto that is keeping you from giving yourself completely to Jesus? Are you willing to let it go and journey with him in this life and into the next?
Painting “Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler”, 1889, by Heinrich Hofmann