Pentecost 21
Diane Lee

What Does the LORD Require of You?

Mark 10:17-31

The roads

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear . . .”

Over the course of our lives, as Robert Frost sketches in his poem, we have choices before us, and making choices is inevitable. No path is easy in life until we reach the final destination. The road trip alongside Lake Superior, for example, is known to be picturesque, but perhaps not when a non-stop heavy rain and a thick fog around the mountains block your vision on the way, perhaps not when you hit a very long stretch with no gas station nearby, and perhaps not when you find a motel only to discover it is closed. Likewise, we are challenged by various trials and tribulations and faced with a serious of questions in life, and we try to make best decisions and choices in every possible way. A real question for us would be what we ought to do with our decisions and choices as we move forward to an uncertain future.


The hard condition

In today’s Gospel, we meet a rich man who is searching for the path to eternal life. This story appears in three gospels – Mark (10:17-31), Matthew (19:16-30), and Luke (18:18-30). Matthew describes this man as a young fellow, and Luke portrays him as a certain ruler. So, he is a rich young ruler. Also, he is a perfectionist. He has marked off everything on the check list, keeping the Commandments and tithing and so on, to earn God’s favour. He says that he has kept all the laws since his youth. It is human nature that we expect something good in return of our good deeds and big achievements. It is cheering, actually, when there is a sort of guaranteed reward, just as the credit card companies give the cardholders cash-back or air-miles, in recognition of their faithful spending.

Now, the man poses a question to Jesus with anticipation for some assurance of going to heaven and seeks advice if anything is lacking. When the man called Jesus “good teacher,” however, Jesus humbles Himself and redirects the man to God, saying that no one can be perfectly good except God. Then, Jesus invites him to join the circle of disciples, “Follow me!” yet with one condition. That condition is to divest himself of his property first.

If selling everything is the condition to follow Jesus, how many of us can follow that path? The man who believes that he has lived justly and wanted to follow Jesus walks away sorrowfully because he has many possessions to give up. Giving up what we love dearly is hard. Willfully letting go of the things that provide comfort for us is a big test to our hearts.


Why selling everything?

The law nowhere obliges us to sell everything. Then, why does Jesus command this? Not only selling everything, the rich young ruler is also supposed to give to the poor. Jesus did not tell him to spare some money and bring it with him to spend it for emergency during their journey together. The man had to decide on the path, and his face fell because it was a difficult path to take. Jesus still “loved him” just as he was (Mk 10:21).

Being a disciple is a hard choice. Jesus told His twelve disciples to “take nothing for the journey except a staff, no bread, no bag, no money in their belts, but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics” (Mk 6:8-9). The Apostles in the first century were able to manage such a situation since the early Church lived a communal life unlike today’s society. Still, even back then, it would not have been an easy thing to free oneself from the power and control given by material possessions. In the thirteenth century, St. Francis of Assisi also abandoned all he had. He peeled off his garment in front of his father, completely naked, and said, “Until now I have called you my father on earth. But henceforth I can truly say: Our Father who art in heaven.”

St. Francis embraced an absolute corporate poverty in charity and renounced a mundane life and even family ties, driven by his evangelical passion. However, not everyone is called to live such a radical life that mendicant disciples had lived. Moreover, in our contemporary society over which individualism dominates, it is not right to sell everything, especially when we have families to support. Living in poverty is not the requirement that Jesus lays upon us, but the story of the rich young ruler alarms us about the human tendency for being enslaved with mundane possessions that separate us from the fellowship with God.


Depend on God

Being wealthy is not a bad thing. But we need to remember that it is God who provides. So, with gratitude for His care, we should be diligent in doing charity and depend on God, the true source of our life. I don’t know about you, but somehow I see my own self in this rich man rely on my own ability to do things. Being dependent on God requires courage to give up our own ego to invite Him to enter into our lives. We fall and stumble, living in an imperfect world, pursuing worldly desires. But, it is God by whom we are saved, not human work, not any laws. The rich man has kept all the laws but did not know that he was under God’s grace for his eternal life. No matter what we do, rich or poor, let us remember our indebtedness to Christ for what He has done for us on the cross, and let us have a grateful heart, especially when our roads are hard and unforeseen, being assured that the invisible hands of God guide us to a certain place for a purpose.


Stay Encouraged

It is not easy to sacrifice comfort, security, and the things we love in this world, but Abraham obeyed the Lord when he was told to sacrifice his only son Isaac (Gen 22:2). And, God had a plan to bless this obedient servant and his offspring. There are times when we are faced with temptations, but we need to remember that Our High Priest, Jesus Christ, also had been tempted in the wilderness when Satan tried to lead Him into compromise by promising Him worldly authority and power (Lk 4:5-8). Our Lord, however, defeated Satan. Jesus did not fall. Therefore, we should be able to resist temptations with the power of His Holy Spirit just as Christ crushed Satan under His feet.

There are times when we feel alone and rejected. Jesus also cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mk 15:34; Mt 27:46; cf. Ps 22:1). Christ who experienced all human sufferings can empathize with our deep sorrows and weaknesses beyond human understanding. Christ loves us all unconditionally as He loved the rich young man who turned away.

Eternal Life

As a matter of fact, the man who was boasting about his law-keeping fell short. He followed the laws for the sake of laws but not for the glory of God. The two Greatest Commandments – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself (Mt 22: 37-40). These two laws sound so simple, yet they are so hard to keep. Thus, Jesus says that it is impossible for mortals to enter the kingdom of God but for God all things are possible. This is a message of great hope.

The hope for God’s saving grace is not a wishful thinking but a Christian virtue; one of the things we must hold tight. Those with this true hope occupy their minds with heaven and act differently. After all, eternal life is not anything fundamentally new, but it begins here and now when we choose to follow Jesus and when we become one spirit with Him. There are many roads, but the road we choose is the path to eternal life, a journey with Christ, a journey towards Christlikeness.
In closing, I will leave you with what Micah tells us (Mic 6:8):

What does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?