“Follow me…” These words resound in our minds as we recall how Jesus’ called Simon and Andrew the fishermen, and Matthew, the tax collector. They left everything and followed Jesus. This Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 10:17-31) tells an opposing story. Jesus invites a man who wished to inherit eternal life, to follow him, but he walked away.
The man runs to Jesus as He was preparing for a journey. He kneels before Jesus and pleads, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He respects Jesus as a “good” religious teacher. Perhaps he thinks there is something he too could do to perfect his goodness and therefore merit eternal life. Jesus’ first response to the man’s question points him to the laws of Moses. Considering himself righteous, the man declares, “I have kept all these since my youth.”
Jesus does not dispute the man’s claim to piety but invites him into the pathway to eternal life. To walk this path the man is challenged to confront himself. Jesus told him, “You lack one thing…” What could that “one thing” be? Could it be a spiritual rebirth in the way of love? The man declares his righteousness, but Jesus focuses on the primacy of love. Love is the “one thing” that matters most, for the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and our neighbors as ourselves. The man is therefore challenged to “go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Growing in that one central “thing,” love for God, empowers us to reframe our priorities, releasing our attachment to worldly goods so we may draw near to God’s eternal kingdom. “Go, give, come, follow” become practical expressions of our love for God and neighbor. Lacking the will to dispossess himself and surrender to divine love, “he went away grieving.”
Where did the man go? Did he lose all hope of eternal life? His departure symbolizes a walking away from Jesus’ divine and everlasting love. We are told that Jesus looking at him loved him. Thanks be to God Jesus never walks away from us. His love is steadfast. He relinquished even His own life to draw all persons into eternal life with God.
May we open our hearts and invite God’s Spirit to convict us of all that inhibits us from wholeheartedly loving God and surrendering our lives to Him.