Tag Archives: rich young man

6 August: A gift of love and sorrow, VI.

Gate to Jesus Hospital, Canterbury

We have come to the final element in the encounter between the rich young man and Jesus (Mark 10:17-22). It is significant that Jesus, despite – or because of – his love for the young man, does not make an exception for him, does not say, ‘Okay. I like you. I’ll make you a deal. You can keep all your wealth in reserve somewhere. Follow me anyway.’ No. Following Jesus and hoarding wealth are diametrically opposed. The poor have a claim on our material prosperity, according to Jesus (Mk 10: 21). A complete life-change must be undertaken by the wealthy that accommodates itself to others’ needs before a life lived with Jesus can be undertaken.

So: it looks pretty bad for the rich young man, whom I, too, have now begun to love. In losing Jesus he loses everything worth having, and his previously easy life suddenly becomes drenched in sorrow. Mark tells us that his face falls and he ‘goes away sad.’ I am certain that this is true.

But I still wonder: is it as bad as it looks for the rich young man? Is everything really over for him? I think of him reflecting on what he experienced with Jesus. He will not forget this encounter. He will remember it to the end of his life. And this may be his salvation.

Some final thoughts begin to take shape in my mind as I mentally say good-bye to a much-loved young man. I reflect that, ordinarily, the gospels show that some profound sorrow or disease – or both – is actually what opens people up to receive Jesus’ life, his love, his healing, his teaching about the Kingdom. For them, their woundedness, whether physical or moral or spiritual, is an unexpected blessing that enables them to gain the true treasure, which is Jesus.

But for others, the whole thing works in reverse–or it can. In the case of the rich young man, he comes to Jesus ‘nearly perfect,’ not conscious of woundedness or moral failings. When he leaves Jesus he feels much worse than he did when he arrived. He has been afflicted with a profound wound of sorrow. There are many, many untold stories in the gospels. We do not know exactly what happens to the rich young man after he ‘goes away sad.’ We know only that Jesus gives him the gift of a deep sorrow, the likes of which the young man had probably never known before in his life of wealth, comfort and cheer.

But wait. We know something else, too. Jesus gives him another gift to take away–and just as important: a moment of the most perfect human fulfilment. Jesus had been filled with love for him, and had looked at him with love. We are back to the idea with which we began our reflection: Mark’s insistence on Jesus’ look of love. This is of vital importance to Mark and it is even easier now to see why. We are talking about God-made-man looking at the rich young man with love. This look will be deeper and more profoundly moving than anything else he will ever experience. This combination of sorrow and love, it seems to me, is a combination that, given time, cannot fail to have affected the young man, to have opened him up, to have made him rethink his priorities, reconsider his actions. True, there is nothing in Jesus’ loving look to force the young man into acquiescence: he was free to refuse Jesus and he did. But, let’s note that he refused Jesus’ invitation right then. A door remains open to him; Jesus doesn’t stop loving people. There was still a chance to become a Christian later and to be healed of his sorrow and receive the joy of life in Christ. His life after this experience need not be a complete tragedy.

For those of us who may recognise ourselves in this story, who fear we may have lost the love of Christ forever along with our chance to be his follower, I think we can assume that Mark would hold that it doesn’t work like that. Jesus’ look of love lasts forever. The rich young man was eager, open and willing, but unprepared for the cost involved in following Jesus. He needed to grow up, to grow into Jesus’ love. The gift–the ‘package’–of sorrow and of love is powerful. The young man arrived at Jesus’ feet unprepared, he went away both loved and sorrowing. Through this gift, and over time, preparation for life with Christ was possible to him, as it is for anyone. Let’s hope he made that preparation and returned later, maybe after Jesus’ death, to join the growing community of Christians. Shall we join, too?

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5 August: A gift of love and sorrow, V.

Mark reports that Jesus says, ‘You need to do one thing more’ (Mark 10:21). This very gentle remark of Jesus accompanies his gaze of love. Jesus seems to be tenderly overlooking the young man’s sense of himself as being perfect–or nearly so. Surely, Jesus knows that there is not only “one thing” but many things the young man needs to do or become, but Jesus may be thinking that there will be time enough for the young man to come to terms with his weaknesses and to acquire a more realistic estimation of himself. For the moment, Jesus knows that if he can just persuade him to do only ‘one very important thing more,’ that very important thing will enable the young man well and truly to begin a deeper life, rooted in God: ‘Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’ (Mark 10:21).

And, tragically, here the conversation ends. The delightful young man with the “can do” personality suddenly confronts something he cannot do. Possibly, his life has been a bit too easy up to now and he knows it. That may be one of the reasons why he is there to begin with, kneeling before Jesus. But the effect of Jesus’ words is immediate.

The young man clearly didn’t expect Jesus to say that. And indeed, wealth was considered by the Jewish people to be a sign of God’s favour and blessing. “What’s this about?” he may well have thought. But he doesn’t linger to discuss the matter with Jesus. Had he done so, Jesus might have explained that the Kingdom belonged to the poor in spirit and that wealth, with its trappings of glamour and its conferral of undeserved honour, was a spiritual handicap. In any case, now we reach the part of the story where the rich young man ceases to be an example of how to win Jesus’ love (although I do not doubt that Jesus continued to love him deeply). At this stage in the story the young man becomes an example of the paradox that we lose everything when we attempt to save everything–for we who read this know that Jesus himself is ‘everything’ and he is more than worth the loss of everything else. Indeed, the loss of everything else is the condition for gaining a close relationship with Jesus. It is a small price to pay.

A small price, but I am asking myself now what I am trying to hang onto that may be separating me from a close relationship with Jesus. I will stay with that uncomfortable question for a day and return tomorrow.

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4 August: A Gift of Love and Sorrow, IV.

Speaking and listening: ESB

We’re in the midst of a reflection on the rich young man (see Mark 10:17-22) and I invite you to scroll back to our previous posts in order to catch up.

I’d like to dive straight in today and say that when the rich young man makes his rather preposterous claim to have kept all the Commandments from his earliest days, ‘Jesus looked steadily at him and was filled with love for him’ (Mark 10:21). As I ponder this, I see once again that Jesus responds to people in a manner that is very different from what I’d have done. At this point in the story, my annoyance at the rich young man returns. After all, he’s just more or less admitted that he’s perfect–and no one’s perfect. Why doesn’t Jesus take him down a peg or two? Instead, Jesus is filled with love for him. So, I try to understand Jesus. He is always right, always a superb psychologist. No one pulls anything over on Jesus. Why has the rich young man just stolen his heart? It’s possible that the rich young man’s claim is not preposterous after all.

I wait quietly in prayer, asking for understanding of Jesus’ love for the rich young man. A few ideas begin to occur to me.

There is a certain unabashed innocence in the rich young man. He’s oblivious to the fact–or doesn’t care–that some people would find his claim to have kept all the Commandments preposterous. This is simply how he sees himself, and false modesty is not part of his character. Jesus loves this sort of forthright person.

In the rich young man, Jesus finds a character who is not plagued by any neurotic self-doubt. He has a ‘can do’ attitude, and a ‘can do’ view of himself. “I’ve kept all the Commandments. I can do that!” How refreshing, Jesus must have thought. And I become aware of how delightful the young man’s personality might have been–cheerful and full of hope.

Although Jesus challenges the rich young man when he calls Jesus ‘good,’ the fact is, the young man seems to recognise in Jesus’ goodness the specifically divine attribute of goodness. We touched on this in yesterday’s post and I promised we’d look at it today. I think Jesus asks him to explain his reason for calling him ‘good’ because he wanted the rich young man to say that he saw Almighty God’s own goodness in Jesus. The young man doesn’t actually come right out and say this, however–perhaps he is not fully conscious of what he sees in Jesus, or is not yet able to articulate it beyond calling him ‘good.’ But whether the young man can articulate all that he sees in Jesus or not, Jesus himself, with his penetrating human insight, would know that there is only a short step from what the young man sees in Jesus to identifying Jesus with God. Jesus sees this and loves him for it.

The rich young man has courage. He does not back down from his assertion that Jesus is ‘good’ and he does not withdraw his question about inheriting eternal life. He has strength and determination. He wants to hear Jesus’ answer. He’s waiting for it. Jesus would smile at this, I believe.

If, as he says, he has kept all the Commandments from his youth, the rich young man can be relied upon to be truthful, peace-loving, chaste, modest, respectful of others’ possessions, and a loving son to his parents, among other things. This is a thoroughly decent human being, practised in virtue–a very loveable person.

As already indicated, the rich young man has approached Jesus with a combination of determination and humility. This is an unusual mix. In general, people tend to have one or the other, but not both. If the young man were to become a follower of Jesus, he’d have a wonderful ability to relate to people and to preach the kingdom. Jesus likes this very much.

At this point, I begin to like the young man, too. A lot. Based on Jesus’ next remark, it’s clear that he thinks the young man would be an asset to the Twelve. According to the text, Jesus is filled with love for him and then actually invites him to become one of his close followers. But not before he challenges him in an even deeper way.

We’ll look at that tomorrow.

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3 August: A Gift of Love and Sorrow, III.

Blake’s Jacob’s Ladder between Earth and Heaven.

Yesterday we looked at the beginning of the sketch of the rich young man drawn by Mark (10:17-22). We noted that, even before the young man says a word, his behaviour shows him to be a person of courage, humility and independence. We saw that there is much to learn from him, much to admire and love already. Today, we will listen to him speak. His first words are: Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life? (Mark 10:18)

I stop reading and let that question stand in my mind. Slowly I am filled with awe. He has asked the most important question he could have asked. It is more important than almost any other question imaginable, because almost any other question is a question about this world, and therefore is a question about what we must one day give up when we die. The young man, on the other hand, has the maturity to ask the famous double-barrelled question: given that I am alive, how do I live in this world in such a way as to attain eternal life in the next? The young man has already seen that our stay in this world is short and goals pertaining only to this short life are shallow. Death is the one certainty–he has acknowledged this, even though youth does not usually grasp this nettle with its soft hands. He knows he cannot do as most people do–deny that he is going to die. Jesus hears all these shades of meaning in the young man’s question and must have rejoiced. The very question, in fact, is the question that Jesus is about. Its answer is to found in the Incarnation itself. It becomes clear to me now as I turn these thoughts over and over in my mind that the young man’s question is not an idle one but is coming from a deep place. What an exceptional human being, I think to myself.

But what does Jesus do? For the first time in the story, Jesus speaks. And he is surprisingly challenging. As often happens, his actions are directly opposite to what I think I’d have done. I would have perhaps fallen all over myself to affirm the young man. “What a great question!” I’d probably have enthused with a big smile. But Jesus doesn’t seem to be smiling here. Something seems to be eating him. Rather than affirm the young man, Jesus seems testy. He asks the young man why he calls him good, when goodness is the attribute of God alone (Mk.10:19).

This has always been a difficult remark for me to understand. It sounds as though Jesus doesn’t want to be called ‘good,’ which would be sort of crazy. But suddenly I think that maybe this is not so at all, maybe Jesus has no objection to being called ‘good.’ Maybe what he means is that he wants the young man to explain why he is attributing to Jesus a goodness that is usually attributed to God alone. He wants to know what the young man means by it. We will say more about this in tomorrow’s post.

In fact, the rich young man does not rise to Jesus’ challenge and explain why he used the word ‘good’ in his address of Jesus. And Jesus has other things on his mind, more important to him, and doesn’t linger over the issue. Instead, he seems to see that that question is too much for the young man and so he quickly moves on to his main point. He is still challenging. He remarks that in giving the Ten Commandments to humanity, God has already given us everything needed to inherit eternal life. The question “what should I do to inherit eternal life” doesn’t really need to be asked, Jesus implies; the answer is obvious. Keep the Commandments. You know them.

Then the young man says something very unusual. He claims that he has kept the Commandments from his earliest days (Mark 10:24). I am astonished: the young man is not conscious of any wrong-doing in relation to the Commandments.

As I mull this, I recall that others whom Jesus met and healed during his public ministry are conscious of personal, moral weakness and sinfulness, conscious of wrongdoing, and some have even experienced demonic possession. These intensely painful wounds of body, soul or character, however, actually function in a positive way in relation to those who suffer them; they draw Jesus’ mercy and compassion, they enable the suffering individual to encounter Jesus on the deepest possible level. Our young man in Mark, on the other hand, confidently declares “I have kept all the commandments from my youth.” He is, seemingly, perfect.

How does this strike you? And what does it make you think when you reflect on your own experience of woundedness and moral weakness? Let’s give this some time and return tomorrow for more.

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2 August: A Gift of Love and Sorrow, II.

We are continuing Sister Johanna’s reflection on Jesus and the rich young man. She advises: ‘If you’ve just joined us, I hope you will scroll back to yesterday’s post to see where we’ve come from and where we are going.’

Today, I return to the beginning of the story of the rich young man in Mark 10:17-22 in order to read it again more slowly, to see if I can answer the questions with which we ended yesterday’s reflection. And maybe, with the Spirit’s help, I can. I take my time, allowing my imagination gently to engage with the words of the text. I notice that, first, Mark tells us that Jesus is about to start on a journey. I slowly picture it. It’s always difficult to get started on a journey, no matter what century you happen to live in. Somehow organising yourself and others for the trip and thanking hosts and saying good-bye to dear friends and family always takes much longer than planned. When you’re finally ready to leave, you’re loath to be delayed again. If something happens to interfere with the departure it is usually dealt with as quickly as possible and with more than a hint of exasperation.

Enter: the rich young man. The fact that Jesus’ journey is about to begin places the young man at some disadvantage; nevertheless, he bursts onto the scene and ‘runs up’ to Jesus (Mk. 10:17). Some people, afraid of causing inconvenience, would have given up before they began and gone home without meeting Jesus, and ordinarily, this might be the wise thing to do. But not in the judgement of the young man of our story. He seems to realise that meeting Jesus is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that must not be thrown away. Perhaps because he is a rich man (and people are usually rather in awe of the rich), no one there tries to circumvent this encounter with Jesus in order to spare Jesus the inconvenience. Nor does Jesus indicate that the delay is a problem to him. Indeed, we see again and again in the gospels that Jesus is always ready to talk to someone who is sincerely seeking him. And the young man is nothing if not sincere.

So, the young man ‘runs up’ to Jesus. This is another detail that is in Mark and not the other gospels. I try to enter fully into Mark’s experience of this event. I see the young man. He looks an intelligent person, he’s attractive–as the rich often seem to be because they can afford the best clothes and the best, most skilled people to groom their hair and skin; he is, therefore, well dressed, but at this moment he’s actually rather a mess. He is hot and breathless from running–he has, for now, forgotten his usual rich-boy persona and slick appearance. He has, in fact, forgotten himself entirely in his desire to see Jesus.

And Jesus? He is silent at first, according to the text. He lets the young man state his business. But Jesus cannot miss the earnestness in him. Moreover, the young man immediately kneels before Jesus. Mark’s touch again. The kneeling impressed Mark, and I can see why. The rich young man could have presumed upon the status conferred by his wealth. He could have stood before Jesus, eye to eye, man to man. But he does not. The rich man puts aside all privilege and kneels down. He has grasped something essential about Jesus: he has grasped Jesus’ greatness.

I’m looking, as I said yesterday, for what the rich young man can teach me. Jesus will look at him with love in a few minutes. Why? Many reasons have already been given here. The young man’s urgency and his determination to see Jesus, his self-forgetfulness, his sincerity, his awareness of Jesus’ greatness and his own comparative littleness, his spontaneous decision to kneel down.

I want to give this opening scene time to become fruitful in me and allow these reasons for Jesus’ love the space they need to locate themselves within my heart and prayer. I want to be that young man for a little while–a full day. Tomorrow, we will continue.

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