Share in the spirit of Jesus' sacrifice
Rewards come to those who make personal sacrifices to follow Jesus
October 15, 2006 -- 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Michael Stubbs
We sometimes call the eyes the windows to the soul. They reveal the heart of that person. For example, the eyes may open wide in wonder. Or, they may flash with anger. The eyes send us a message about that person.
Sunday's gospel reading, Mark 10:17-30, twice mentions Jesus looking at people. First, Jesus looks at a man who has approached him with a question about eternal life (v.21). Secondly, Jesus looks at his disciples (v.23). Both times the action of looking accompanies words that Jesus is speaking. That is to say, the action of looking establishes eye contact between Jesus and his audience. Jesus uses his eyes to communicate with them.
When Jesus looks at the man who has approached him with a question about eternal life, the text also includes the fact that Jesus loved him. "Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him."
Love, standing on its own, is not something that is immediately discernible. But linked to the action of looking, it can reveal itself through a look. So we might translate that sentence in this way: "Jesus looked lovingly at him and said to him." Through his look, Jesus communicated his love for the man.
But then Jesus speaks. And when we hear his words, it sounds as though Jesus is sending a mixed message. "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor."
If someone walked up to us, pointed a gun at us and said, "I want all your money," we would not interpret those words as words of love. And yet, when Jesus asks the man for all that he has, his words flow from his love for the man. It is the same love that eventually will nail Jesus to the cross, in his supreme sacrifice.
Jesus is inviting the man to share in the spirit of that sacrifice. By giving away all his possessions, the man will be taking the first step in following Jesus. That is why Jesus adds, "Then come, follow me."
In the second half of the gospel reading, Jesus gives a related teaching on wealth to his disciples. In the case of the man with the question about eternal life, Jesus issued him a challenge about his wealth. In contrast, Jesus now offers encouragement to his disciples, who have already left everything behind to follow him. Jesus assures them that they will "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 phrase, "with persecutions," might suggest that Jesus is once again sending a mixed message. In the list of blessings, it stands out as a flaw. But it tells us that any present troubles that the disciples experience only offer proof of the reward that they are receiving.
We might ask ourselves, is Jesus issuing us a challenge or offering us comfort through his teaching on wealth? Which category do we fit in?
(Fr. Stubbs, a priest of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, has a master's degree in theology from Harvard.)