The Gospel reading for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time is Mark chapter 10 verses 17 to 30. In this reading, a man runs up to Jesus, kneels before him, addresses him as “Good Teacher,” and asks how he might inherit eternal life. The man expresses that he has followed the commandments. Jesus responds first by stating only God is good, then further responds by “loving him” and subsequently telling the man to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow him. The man leaves sad because he had “great” possessions. Jesus told his disciples that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples then wondered, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus finally tells his disciples that with God, all things are possible. Peter reminds Jesus that the disciples have sold everything, and Jesus reassures Peter that any person who leaves behind their worldly life for the sake of God and the Gospel will be rewarded in this life and the next.
A man running and kneeling appears to be both eager and respectful of the one he is approaching and questioning. In addition, the man addresses Jesus as a “Good Teacher,” which may indicate he viewed Jesus as an authority. Finally, the man asks Jesus what he “shall do to inherit eternal life” and suggests he has followed the law since youth. The idea of an individual seemingly living a righteous life yet asking how to inherit eternal life indicates that the man felt he wasn’t doing everything right. Furthermore, his use of “inherit” shows his understanding that eternal life is not necessarily automatic. Inheritance is often assumed but by no means guaranteed.
Jesus’s first reaction to the man stating he had followed the law since youth was a loving reaction – the text says Jesus “loved him.” This love could be the result of Jesus loving everyone or because the man did follow the law during his lifetime. Although Jesus seemed to appreciate the man’s adherence to the law, he ultimately identified the man had not sold what he had and given to the poor, and the man left sad.
Of note, this story does not describe what happened to the man after. The story states the man “left sad” but does not state whether the man ultimately gave to the poor or if he followed Jesus. When Jesus explains the difficulty of a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, the disciples themselves ask, “Then who can be saved?” This is an interesting response from individuals who were not rich and were already following Jesus. Even Peter, seemingly needing reassurance, had to point out that the disciples gave up everything and were following Jesus.
Ultimately Jesus indicates that “all things are possible for God,” suggesting wealthy persons can inherit eternal life. Jesus further reassures the disciples that sacrifice for God or the Gospel will pay dividends both now and in the life to come.
The above might suggest lessened importance on adherence to the law; however, the Book of James Chapter 2 verse 14 through 18 states:
14 What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,
16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
17 In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
Furthermore, in Mark 12 verse 31, Jesus provides the greatest commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Jesus loved the man who ran and knelt before him to ask about the requirement to receive an inheritance of eternal life. Works are an essential aspect of a righteous life; however, Jesus told the man to extend himself beyond laws that only affect him and live a life of virtue – a life in which he did not neglect the needs of his neighbor. The commandments Jesus listed are easy. Most people can live an entire lifetime and avoid killing, stealing, defrauding, bearing false witness while honoring their parents. It is possible Jesus was also speaking about the extended mitzvot in Jewish life; however, the text does not explicitly mention these. What Jesus tells the man is to extend himself and give to the poor. If the man loved his neighbor as himself, he would not have left sad – he would willingly share with those who needed it. If the word “rich” were replaced with “those who have excess,” it casts a wider net and might explain the disciple’s surprise and concern for the height of the bar set. Living in this way is difficult but not impossible with God’s help.