At the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel, just after John the Baptist is arrested by King Herod, Jesus begins his mission by proclaiming, “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15). “Repent” here carries the meaning of changing one’s way of looking at things; beginning to live in a new way. Throughout this week the readings will be challenging us to this kind of change – from thinking and acting in the world’s way, to thinking and acting as Jesus does. We are being challenged to follow him.
We see this challenge set before us most clearly in today’s Gospel. A man comes to Jesus and asks how he can inherit eternal life. What must he do? Jesus begins by citing the commandments, which the man says he has kept. No doubt he is feeling pretty good about himself at this point. So far he has received the sort of answer which he probably expected – keep the commandments and do what is right and God will reward you. But then Jesus challenges the man to change his way of thinking. Pope Francis describes the change in this week’s Spiritual Reflection: “Jesus changes the perspective: from commandments observed in order to obtain a reward, to a free and total love. That man was speaking in terms of supply and demand, Jesus proposes to him a story of love. He asks him to pass from the observance of laws to the gift of self, from doing for oneself to being with God.”
Jesus is revealing that our encounter with God is not a business transaction. It is never a matter of “I will do this for you if you do that for me.” This is not how God acts. God is love. He only and always acts in love. He gives himself completely to us in total, self-emptying love, as we see most clearly portrayed when we gaze upon Jesus on the Cross. The only way we can have eternal life with him is by responding to his love with love, with our own gift of self in return for his gift of self to us.
Pope Francis puts it this way: “Jesus is radical. He gives all and he asks all: he gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart. Even today he gives himself to us as the living bread; can we give him crumbs in exchange? We cannot respond to him, who made himself our servant even going to the cross for us, only by observing some of the commandments. We cannot give him, who offers us eternal life, some odd moment of time. Jesus is not content with a ‘percentage of love’: we cannot love him twenty or fifty or sixty percent. It is either all or nothing.”
This is what Jesus is saying to the man: If you really want eternal life, which is sharing in the very life of God, then follow me. Do what I do. Empty yourself completely in love for me as I do in love for you. This is the life of God!
We know that the man turns and walks away sad, and Jesus points out how hard it is for people with wealth to enter the Kingdom of God. The disciples are shocked at his words, so he says to them, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” If we think that we can follow Jesus by our own efforts, then we do not understand what he is asking of us, nor do we know ourselves well enough. The call to follow Jesus is a call to love as he loves – which is impossible for us, as impossible as trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle. But God can make it possible.
As we have said, Jesus’ first words in his mission were, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” So we begin by rejecting the world’s way of thinking and acting, the endless pursuit of earthly goods. In today’s Psalm, we ask God to “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” If our days on this earth are numbered, we are foolish if we spend them chasing power and wealth! What use are those things when the number of our days comes to an end? This is why the author of the Book of Wisdom praises prudence and wisdom above all riches, because wisdom allows him to pursue what will truly bring him the “good things” which he seeks, the “treasure in heaven” which Jesus promises to the rich man if he follows him.
We can see, then, the truth of what we read in today’s selection from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Indeed the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” The word of God today cuts deep into our hearts. He sees where we struggle with putting our trust in him. He calls us to follow him and to give up our attachment to the things of the world, and we find this very difficult. We prefer, as Pope Francis says, to give Jesus some of our time, some of our energy. We want to put our trust in him up to a point, but also to cling to the false security of the world.
Let us beg God for the grace to put our full trust in Jesus, to resolve to follow him, giving him love for love, life for life. We beg for the grace to let go of the “riches” of this world: our self-importance, our self-centeredness, our pride, our sensuality. Let us discover the blessing of abandoning our focus on self, as the Gospel Acclamation teaches us: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 18:3).
What changes in my life do I have to make to think and act as Jesus does? What is hindering me from responding to Jesus’ love with the gift of myself to him? Why do I give Jesus some of my time and some of my energy and not my complete trust in Him?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.