Sunday reflection: Mark 10:17-30

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  For previous Green Room entries, click here.

This morning’s Gospel reading is Mark 10:17-30:

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments:

You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother.”

He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” Peter began to say to him, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.”

The disciples ask the question all Christians ask at some point in their journey of faith. Certainly, when I was standing in line for confession yesterday, this question was paramount in my mind, as it usually is at those times. We live in a fallen world, which we navigate imperfectly while attached to our own selfish desires and attachment to sin. Thanks to the wonders of the modern age, those attachments can be instantly serviced, our impulses immediately satisfied.

Who can be saved?

In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus’ teachings, which seem daunting, to say the least. First, He reminds the wealthy man that no one on Earth is entirely good, but only God has that honor, a reminder of our attachment to sin. He repeats the commandments to the man who claims to have abided by all of them his entire life. Having observed them all, the man wants to know how else he can enter the kingdom, only to hear Jesus say that the man must sacrifice that to which he is most attached — his wealth.

Until this point in time, the Israelites assumed that all that was required of them was observance of the Law. The disposition of their hearts were not immaterial, of course, but adhering to the Law was all they thought was required of them to inherit their place in God’s kingdom. Jesus makes it plain in this passage that mechanical adherence to the Law would not suffice.

Who can be saved?

In our first reading from Wisdom, the Scriptures teach us to set our hearts properly for God’s grace. The “spirit of wisdom” from the Lord exceeds the value of “scepter and throne, and deemed riches,” all of the material items to which we most attach ourselves. He further states that wisdom is more desirable than light, health, and comeliness, because wisdom in this sense comes from the Lord, who will bring all good from it. Noting that, at the end of this passage the prophet writes, “Yet all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands.”

This goes to the power of sin, and its impact. Sin is at its root a deception, a clouding of reality, which is the opposite of wisdom in the Lord. We are deceived by sin, made to either believe we are greater than we are, or more despicable. Attachment to wealth above the love of the Lord is our way of repeating the sin of Adam — trying to control creation for our own sake, rather than serve as stewards of it for the Lord.

We see this in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus tries teaching this to the man who comes to him, as He sees that the wealthy man is walking on the path of salvation but for this attachment to the wealth he has hoarded. Jesus asks him to act in the role of steward rather than a prince, redirecting the material to those who truly need it, and to trust in Him to provide while the man continues on the path. Instead, the man turns away, trusting more in his wealth than in Jesus, the Word of God. Wealth becomes a trap, not because it’s sinful in and of itself to be wealthy, but because it leads us to believe that we are greater than the Lord — while at the same time despairing of our future without it. This is why Jesus says that it is more difficult for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The man has no trust in the Lord. That is the sin, and that is the core of all sin, whatever the nature of the specific sin might be. It is a manipulation to protect ourselves at the expense of others, to deny others what they need in service to our own ends, and a denial of the Lord’s place in our lives and in the world.

But those are not just afflictions of the wealthy, either. All of us suffer from sin, if not identical to that of the man in this passage, then certainly similarly to him. The disciples immediately recognize this and wonder in apparent despair, “Who can be saved?

The answer is all of us, as long as we understand our sinfulness and ask Jesus to forgive us and strengthen us against it. Jesus’ reply addresses this despair, saying that such strength is impossible for human beings, but “all things are possible with God.” That requires us to put our trust in the Lord, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, that He understands our hearts and wants us to join Him in life everlasting. When we trust in Him to show us His wisdom and to live by it, even as imperfectly as we do, we must trust that He will come to meet us where we are to offer us salvation. He sent Jesus to provide the ultimate sacrifice necessary to save all who come to Him — so why would He not lift us up?

Who can be saved? It’s an excellent question to consider while waiting in line for confession. I just pray for the strength to stay on the path of wisdom, and the knowledge of my own weakness so that I may call on Jesus Christ to remember who I truly am — no better, and no worse, than a child of God.

The Sunday Reflection series will take a two-week hiatus while I go on vacation out of the country (starting on Thursday). If I can, I’ll post pictures here the next two Sundays of our travels instead. Otherwise, the series will pick back up on November 1st. 

The front-page image is “Jesus Sends Forth Apostles,” Duccio di Buoninsegna, late 13th-early 14th century.