28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 14, 2018
Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30
This Gospel passage we have today, the account of the Rich Young Man, is one that is very near and dear to my heart. I can really relate to him! As I felt the call to be a priest, as I was in seminary, and sometimes even now—the Rich Young Man and I have the same disposition within ourselves: we both get very caught up in doing what is right, in doing whatever we need to do, in doing those things that are going to “get us into heaven.” But the whole time we are doing, we are forgetting one simple thing: our being; our existence today, right now. What the Rich Young Man struggled with, and what I really struggled with and continue to struggle with, is the idea that life is only about what we have to do to “inherit eternal life” (Mark 10:17), about what we have to do if we want to “go to heaven,” or be happy in the future after we die. But this misses the whole point, this misses what the Lord is truly offering! The Lord doesn’t just offer us happiness and satisfaction after we die, but he also offers us a path to begin to experience it here and now!
The Rich Young Man comes before Jesus in frustration. All he wants in life is to be satisfied, to experience eternal life, the fullness of life (c.f., Psalm 90:14). Being the good Jew he is, he followed all the commandments since he was young; he did everything he was supposed to do. But he has an attitude that life is about sucking it up and following the commandments of God, even though they are making him miserable. Day after day, ever since his youth, he has been following the rules, and hoping that in the end it will pay off and he will get to “go to heaven.” And yet, and yet he still feels dissatisfied, he is still empty within! Deep down, he wants an experience of this satisfaction now. So he goes to Jesus, he finds this man everyone has been talking about, hoping that he will have the answer.
The interaction he has with Jesus is one of the most powerful in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus initially engages the man’s question and tells him about the importance of following the commandments. But then, but then Jesus goes where the Rich Young Man wasn’t ready to go: he goes straight to the man’s heart. With that piercing gaze, with a gaze that pierces to the heart, Jesus looks at the man…and loves him. Jesus says, “Yes, you have followed the commandments so that you can go to heaven. Great! But there is something else you want.” It is then that Jesus reveals the man’s heart to himself. Jesus tells the young man what he is truly seeking, even though he doesn’t want to acknowledge it. Jesus says, “What you really want is happiness and satisfaction here and now, too. And there is only one way to get that. Go, sell what you have. And then come, follow me.” It is at these words that the man’s countenance falls, and he goes away sad. It’s fascinating: this is the only time in the Gospel that Jesus calls someone to follow him and instead of following, they walk away! And how is he described? The man goes away sad, sorrowful. Literally, the man walks away with the same sadness Jesus feels in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he describes himself as being sorrowful even to the point of death (c.f., Mark 14:34, both are described using the Greek word λυπέω).
And I think the reason the man didn’t follow is because he didn’t see Jesus’ gaze, he missed the moment in which Jesus looked at him with love, with the merciful love (hesed, חֵסֵד) of the Lord. He must have missed it! He must have been too focused on something else! How could one not follow if they had been looked at in that way? Think about it. The closest thing we have to this is the look of someone who loves you. It is the look in which neither one needs to say anything; your eyes meet, and you just know. And it can be brief, even as brief as looking back before you leave the room. The joy and delight and satisfaction well-up inside of you. And that look is something you act on! Your entire life is determined by it. You will do anything for that person. And most importantly, you will try to be around that person, spend time with them, share their life—just so you have every opportunity to experience that gaze once again.
This is the look Jesus gave to that man, only a million times more powerful, because it was the look of merciful love from God himself (c.f., Psalm 90). The man must have missed the gaze of Jesus, because if he had seen it, Jesus’ invitation of Come, follow me would have been experienced as an invitation to share Jesus’ life, to be with him, to experience life alongside him, to have the opportunity to experience that gaze once again. But instead, because he must have missed it, the words of Jesus to Come, follow me must have been heard only as a command, as just another commandment he had to follow if he wanted to go to heaven. And so he goes away sad, because he is tired from life just being about commandments and rules.
Now, I know this may sound bad, but when I started seminary, this was the exact attitude I had. I knew that the Lord was calling me to be a priest; I knew it, I could not deny it! But I did not want to be a priest. This call to priesthood, this call of Come, follow me seemed like a commandment I had to follow if I wanted to go to heaven. And I couldn’t understand why God would make me live like this. But like the Rich Young Man, I too had missed the gaze of Jesus Christ.
It was through a whole series of events that this finally changed, though. I do not have enough time now to share it all, but suffice to say, the Lord finally got my attention. Through events I would describe as the “severe mercy” of God, which were just normal events of my daily life, after being so distracted by so many other things for so long, the merciful love of the Lord finally broke through—I finally discovered that all of these events were nothing more than that gaze of the Lord. And then I knew: a life lived alongside him, following him was the way in which I would experience happiness and satisfaction here and now, and eternal life, the fullness of life in the age to come (c.f., Mark 10:30).
In following Jesus Christ, in following his invitation of Come, follow me, I can testify that life is just as he describes it: “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up [everything] for my sake…who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age” (c.f., Mark 10:29-30). Sure, there are also persecutions, sufferings that come with it—life isn’t perfect. But the hundredfold here and now is real! I felt a great fear and sadness about giving up so much to follow him; and this fear and sadness held me back for so long. But the Lord has been faithful to his promise. The love and kindness I experience now is more than I could have asked or imagined, and it is definitely more than I deserve—I don’t deserve it.
It all comes down to one simple fact: the Lord doesn’t ask us to be miserable now and hope to be in heaven one day; no, he offers us a journey alongside him that will bring us eternal life in the age to come but also the hundredfold here and now. He looks at us with love here and now and invites us: Come, follow me.