What must I do to inherit eternal life?

There are many things that we can learn from the Scripture readings this week, but today, let us pay attention to these words… “for he was a man of great wealth”.

Oct 08, 2021

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Wisdom 7:7-11;
Hebrews 4:12-13; Gospel: Mark 10:17-30

In a world where ‘money talks’ and ‘cash is king’, our Gospel reading today stands in stark contrast. In it, a rich young man stops Jesus to ask him a question that many of us may have asked ourselves, “… what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

In answer, Jesus basically tells the young man to obey the Ten Commandments. Upon hearing of the young man’s fidelity to the Law, Jesus is “filled with love for him” and reveals the one last thing that the man has to do …

“Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The Gospel tells us that the man walked away heartbroken “for he was a man of great wealth”. It was a deal-breaker.

There are many things that we can learn from the Scripture readings this week, but today, let us pay attention to these words… “for he was a man of great wealth”.

What is so bad about being a person of great wealth? Let’s keep in mind that many of the Saints were ‘people of great wealth’, some were even kings and queens. Yet, the Church tells us that they did indeed ‘inherit eternal life’. So, what gives?

As I reflected on this, I began to realise that the answer lies not so much in what wealth is but, rather, in what wealth does. Let us explore this further under 3 headings.

a. Dependency Money and wealth have a peculiar way of making us feel infallible. We begin to think we can solve all problems with money and put our trust in resources and material possessions. In other words, the security ‘richness’ affords tempts us to have faith in it rather than in God.

This is witnessed in story of the rich young man as well. His question betrays his thoughts… “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He may be trying to ‘earn’ or ‘acquire’ the Kingdom of God (as he would wealth). He seems to believe that he can ‘do something’ to get eternal life.

The truth is … he can’t. Salvation cannot be bought or earned. It simply cannot be done, BUT (and it’s a big BUT) … “With humans it is impossible, but not with God, for everything is possible with God.”

b. Self-satisfaction Many people do not realise that the Bible contains over 2,000 verses about money and wealth. Both in the Bible and in the world around us, God has blessed people with great wealth. It is not necessarily a bad thing.

It has to be remembered that money is NOT the root of all evil. Rather, it is the love of money that is the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). And therein lies the problem … love of money. For many, money and wealth become the main object of their desire. They replace God, family, and other good things in life.

Pope Francis puts it this way… ‘Wealth ensures nothing. Indeed, once we think we are rich, we can become so self-satisfied that we leave no room for God’s Word, for the love of our brothers and sisters, or for the enjoyment of the most important things in life. In this way, we miss out on the greatest treasure of all’ (Gaudete et Exsultate 68).

c. Enslavement
There is an old Indian saying, “when you have enough money, you control it; but when you have too much money, it controls you”. There is some truth in this.

The young man in the Gospel reading today is a good man. He was not there to simply trip Jesus up with his questions like some of the Pharisees. He was faithful to the Law and seems to earnestly want to follow God’s commandments. Jesus recognised the genuineness of his heart (v17).

But upon hearing that he has to give up his possessions, the man’s resolve is shaken. He becomes disheartened and leaves. He simply cannot let go… not even in exchange for the Kingdom of God. He is not in possession of his wealth; rather his wealth has taken possession of him.

This is the main difference between this rich young man and the wealthy saints we spoke of earlier. For them, their wealth and rank were simply God’s blessing, a tool to advance the Kingdom of God. Their love was for God. Their deepest desire was for Him. They depended on God and not so much on their fortune or status. And most importantly, many a time, they willingly gave up their wealth, their positions and sometimes even their lives, to follow Christ.

Now, the question to ask ourselves is… would I? 

--Bro Dave Kameron is a permanent deacon candidate from the Diocese of Penang. He completed a Diploma in Theology at Vidyajyoti College of Theology, India and is currently continuing formation in College General Major Seminary in Penang.

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