Based on Mark 10:17-31
It’s after the Transfiguration and the rest of the Gospel is going to keep getting more and more uncomfortable as Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem. This week’s Gospel reading is the conversation between Jesus and the rich man and Jesus’ teaching on wealth.
A man comes up to Jesus and asks the question that frames the conversation – “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Inheritance is a financial term. It’s a term that assumes a few things – that the person deserves or really has a right to something because of who they are related to. It’s really a question of how much, not if.
Notice what Jesus does though. He addresses the title that the man has given Jesus: “Good Teacher.” One wonders if the man called Jesus that to butter him up so that he could get the answer he wanted to hear. Jesus doesn’t fall for it though saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” In other words, why not call me by my real title, rather than attempt to butter me up?
Jesus then tells the man about the commandments – the answer he wanted to hear. The man responds this time with the label of “Good.” Instead he says, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” In other words, look at how good I am, Jesus. The label of “good” just got shifted by the man from Jesus as the “Good Teacher” to “hey look at how good I have been.”
Something to make a note of here is that Jesus looks at the man in a loving way, not a critical way. Jesus now tells the man something he doesn’t want to hear – “you lack one thing.” This is a man who has many things. He thinks he lacks nothing and from a material standpoint, he probably doesn’t lack anything. Yet, Jesus points out the man’s poverty. It’s not a financial poverty, but a different kind of poverty. A poverty of empathy for others is one way to describe it. Jesus offers the cure for this poverty – “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Jesus answers the man in the way that the man addressed Jesus – in using financial terms but shifting what those terms are really about. Money doesn’t get to dictate value, worth, or goodness for Jesus. There are far more important things than money. Money is just a tool after all.
Jesus then goes on to offer a teaching about wealth and the challenges it creates. Much of these flies in the face of the commonly held belief at the time (and still today) that material blessing is a sign of God’s favor on a person. One of the other problems with this is the interchange of the belief with the notion that we can earn our way to eternal life. If eternal life is something to be earned, then God owes us when we do the right things. Who’s in charge in that scenario? But we can’t earn eternal life. As Jesus says, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God.”
And then we turn to Peter, who again has things to say. He reminds Jesus “We left everything and followed you.” All through this section of Scripture we witness Jesus taking a commonly held belief and flipping it on its head. He does it with the label of what is “good.” He does it with the abundance of material possessions actually meaning a lack of empathy and care for others. He did it with the idea of material blessing equating God’s blessing. And now here he turns possessions on their head. The goal of life isn’t possessions. Jesus says, “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” He flips the expectations of who is first on its head. He’s been living into this throughout the Gospel and will continue to do so as he gets closer to Jerusalem.
Questions for reflection
- What are the possessions we have are so very important to us? Do we allow those possessions to make decisions for us? Do we listen to money as the core decision making device in our life?
- How is Jesus making the first last and the last first? Where do you see this? And where does the world try to flip this?