Discovering Real Life
In this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 10:17-31), a man asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus then recites various commandments, and the man responds that he has obeyed these commandments. But then Jesus says, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The man’s response? “When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”
I have a lot of sympathy for this man. He wants to find a way of life that really lasts. Eternal life is not just life in the hereafter, but life here and now that has an enduring quality. He also is clearly a faithful man who is already committed to God’s commandments. But Jesus knows that he “lacks one thing.” There is one thing—his possessions—that is getting in the way of him discovering a deeper experience of life. Unless he is willing to relinquish that one thing, he won’t discover what life is all about.
I have a hunch that most of us have “one thing”—one main thing—that prevents us from receiving a deeper experience of life. We all have some “possession” that we need to give away. For some of us, it may well be our financial possessions. Throughout the Bible wealth is the primary alternative to God. It is where we too often put our trust. Jacques Ellul reminds us that the only way to be liberated from the power of money is to give it away: “The only way to overcome the spiritual power of money is to give our money away, thus desacralizing it and freeing ourselves from its control….To give away money is to win a victory over the spiritual power that oppresses us.”
However, for others money may not be the “spiritual power” that oppresses us. For some of us the “possession” we need to relinquish is our pride. We place our trust in our own virtue. Our acts of kindness have become the foundation of our identity. We expend enormous amounts of energy presenting a “faithful” persona to the world. Others of us are possessed by our failures. We simply cannot relinquish our mistakes. In a strange way, they have become an excuse for why we can’t find a life full of more freedom and joy. “If only I hadn’t messed up my life, I would be able to find a better life.” Some of us need to relinquish our resentment over what others have done to us. We need to forgive others if we really want to find a life that lasts. In the end, holding on to the mistakes of others is a great burden.
Jesus “loved” this man and knew what he needed to do to find real life. Jesus loves us and knows what we need to do to find a deeper joy and freedom. Why don’t we ask him the same question as the man in the Gospel of Mark: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” When he answers us, what will we do? Relinquish what possesses us and be truly free, or go away shocked and grieving?