28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 14, 2018
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 said again 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.”
Mark, in today’s gospel, presents in a rather schematic way the teaching of Jesus regarding riches. Traditional Jewish morality taught that wealth was a sign of God’s favor. In fact, there are Christian denominations that still hold this Jewish teaching as true. The new teaching of Jesus is this: it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich man to enter the Kingdom. The picture of impossibility raises the disciples’ astonishment. The question now becomes: who can be saved? Jesus answered: nobody can achieve salvation on the basis of human effort, for salvation and entering into the Kingdom is something that God offers for free. It is not merited.
Jesus neither condemns riches nor is he saying that riches in themselves are evil. What he said is clear: it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom. Jesus who knows the human heart is expressing here an insight into human psychology. We so easily get attached to possessions which can potentially substitute for God in our lives. When they become the center of our lives around which everything orbits, riches and possessions give us a false sense of security.
Attachment to money and possessions is not a prerogative of the rich. This sickness transcends every social strata. Some years ago, I remember reading a story about a girl who was going home to the province after some years working as a house help in Metro Manila. In a jeepney on her way to the pier, two men announced a hold up. One was holding a handgun and the other an ice pick. Everybody hesitantly gave up their money and jewelry except this girl. One of the men stabbed her in the stomach with an ice pick. For hospitalization, she spent five times the amount of the money she had in her bag.
The real problem, therefore, does not lie so much in possessing or not possessing material wealth but in one’s wrong attitude to wealth. Wealth, as many would think, is not a sign of special favor from God, a reward for being good; nor is poverty a sign of faithfulness and of God’s displeasure.
If money and possessions are all what I crave for, if I treasure them more than I treasure God, then my chances for salvation are almost on par with the camel’s passing through the eye of the needle. One who has everything can end up missing the one thing that matters – eternal life.
By Fr. Magdaleno Fabiosa SVD