|Christ and the Rich Young Ruler ~ Heinrich Hofmann 1889|
As he was starting out on a journey, a stranger ran up, and, kneeling before him, asked, 'Good Master, what must I do to win eternal life?' Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: "Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not give false evidence; do not defraud; honor your father and mother."'
'But Master,' he replied, 'I have kept all these since I was a boy.' Jesus looked straight at him; his heart warmed to him, and he said, 'One thing you lack; go, sell everything you have, and give to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; and come, follow me.' At these words his face fell and he went away with a heavy heart; for he was a man of great wealth. Mark 10:17-27
Notice that Jesus is "starting out on a journey" - he's on the road; he's in motion. I would suggest that these few words indicate what true religion is: an inner, spiritual movement. Now, Jesus is on the road, moving within you, within me.
St Mark calls the fellow who ran up to Jesus a stranger. St. Matthew calls him, young. St Luke calls him a ruler. If he is a stranger to Jesus because they have never met, still, we see that Jesus knows him already. That he was young suggests he has a lot to learn. Don't we all? That he was a ruler suggests he not only possesses money and wealth, but also power.
We also understand that he was religious: not only does he know the commandments but he tells Jesus that he follows them. Jesus presses on. Oh, if religious people (including the clergy) only knew how often the instruction of Jesus is directed at them, instead of thinking his words are intended for someone else.
And as Jesus held up the ideal of marriage (no divorce) and the ideal of children (dependence, trust, vulnerability) in chapter 9, so here he holds up the ideal of owning nothing. We've forgotten that our nature is essentially spiritual, and so we remain unaware of the West's first sin which is consumerism: owning, buying, saving, stock-piling, exploiting, possessing.
I said in a Sunday sermon once that there are many Christians who are more familiar with their bank books and stock portfolios than with their bibles. Quick: other than Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd) name the favorite psalm you know by heart. But I digress.
I don't know how possible it is for Christians to live, "Go sell everything you have and give to the poor and come follow me." Chesterton says St. Francis of Assisi came closest to it. But I'd venture most of us could live closer to that ideal than we might imagine. I know a young Franciscan priest who has a number of times walked the 121 miles from Assisi to Florence (and back!) - carrying only a toothbrush, a change of underwear and some holy cards to give to people who extend to him any kindness along the way. And while no one is saying, "You have to do that too!" we probably could be more creative with this Jesus instruction than we are.
The Greeks say, The fish stinks from the head. Maybe a suggestion the clergy could be the first to tryout Jesus' own nothing command. We notice too that this Gospel fellow, so hung up on his stuff, is the only person who ever goes away from Jesus sad. Is Jesus proposing a remedy for us whose national suicide and addiction statistics are so sad and troubling?