Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
How does one gain eternal life?
Eternal life is a gift from God that flows from acceptance in faith of God
October 15, Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Pope John Paul used the story in today's gospel in his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, as the
background for his discussion of moral thought.
The story asks can one gain eternal life? Jesus seems to think one can, in a sense, earn
eternal life by obeying the commandments. It fails to consider that eternal life is a gift
from God. The question has been asked again and again in history and we probably each
ask it ourselves. Paul probably would say a preliminary question might be "what kind of
person must I be to gain eternal life?" Paul certainly in both his Letter to the Galatians
and again to the Romans tried to emphasize that eternal life is a gift from God and what
we do flows from our acceptance in faith of God.
The setting is Jesus on a journey when a man runs up and kneels before him and asks the
question that we considered above. Unlike the Pharisees who frequently try to test Jesus
the man respects Jesus and seeks his advice. He addresses Jesus as a good teacher. Jesus
accepts the designation of teacher but seems to decline the adjective "good." Jesus is not
denying his goodness but points to God as the real source of goodness and perhaps that
Jesus is God's messenger. Jesus then reminds the young man of the commandments, in
particular, those that relate to neighbor. The word "defraud" probably refers to coveting another's things.
The man again addresses Jesus as a teacher, this time without the reference to good and tells Jesus that he has always observed these rules even as a young man. Evidently he finds something missing in his life and seeks to do more. Jesus admired him for this for Mark tells us Jesus looked at him and loved him for his honesty and willingness to do more. So Jesus challenged him to give away his riches and to come and follow him. Jesus is inviting him to be a disciple. The important element is the challenge and the radical quality of one's commitment in being a real disciple of Jesus. Just as Jesus had left all behind to become the proclaimer of the kingdom of God, he expected his disciples to make a similar commitment. The man was unable to do so for as Mark comments, the man was sad for he could not give himself entirely to Christ. His love of what he possessed was more consuming than even his seeking of eternal life.
The longer reading continues with Jesus' explaining why his teaching is so radical and why it is so hard to accept. In Jesus' time, wealth, possessions and the good life were seen as a blessing from God. So when Jesus says how hard it is for those who have wealth to accept the kingdom of God, the disciples are shocked. This goes against all that they had accepted as true. Jesus even uses a real life example to illustrate how hard it is.
Notice Jesus did not teach that wealth is something bad. He tried to show that it can become baggage for the journey and thus a burden. Remember earlier Jesus had told his disciples that they could not carry anything along as they were sent out to preach. They had to depend upon God and not their own resources. Jesus reinforces this and tells them how concern for riches can often become a block to radical discipleship.
Peter tells Jesus that they, his disciples, have given up everything to follow him. Jesus does not praise them for doing so but tells them they will not have the security that most people look for. Because of their willingness to challenge what the world thinks is important, they will be ridiculed and persecuted. Mark knows his church community is already suffering because they have followed Jesus' teaching and wishes to remind them that what they do is what Christ had taught them.
(Fr. Ver Bust holds the title of professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)