Father Donald Senior, CP

Oct. 10: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The search for unending life

Wis 7:7-11; Ps 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17; Heb 4:12-13; Mk 10:17-30

One of the best-known stories in the Gospels appears in this Sunday’s selection from Mark.

While Jesus continues his fateful journey to Jerusalem, he is approached by a man who is obviously very earnest. He kneels down in front of Jesus and asks him a question that echoes down the centuries: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit unending life?” 

This question is not a trap, as a lot of questions posed to Jesus by his opponents seem to be. 

No, this man, who is described as a young man in Matthew’s version of the account, is asking a profound question that probably most of us have asked in some fashion. Is it possible to live forever? Is it possible to reach a moment of unending peace? Does death have the final word, after all?

The man perceives that Jesus is an exceptional teacher, someone close to God, and so he dares to ask Jesus this fundamental question.

Jesus’ first response is to point to the wisdom of his Jewish heritage, which he reveres as God’s will and which he shares with this man: “You know the commandments.” But the man is seeking something more: “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”

In a striking phrase, the Gospel notes “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” The Master Teacher points him to an even more profound way to live: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor … then come, follow me.” 

The man’s response is telling: “At this statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” He was not angry, insulted or bitter, but sad. The man knew Jesus had invited him to a new life, but he was not free to say “yes.” The price was too high.

What does it mean to follow Jesus in Gospel terms? It is a life not consumed by possessions, realizing that there is much more to being an authentic human being than that. It is someone who lives in the manner that Jesus lived his own life: someone who is compassionate and merciful, someone who is a healer and a reconciler, someone who embraces the lost and broken and loves them (as Jesus does this man), someone who reaches out to the poor and the people on the margins, someone who lives for others and is not absorbed solely by one’s own needs.

The first reading for this Sunday is from the Book of Wisdom. Reflection on wisdom is the subject of several books in the Old Testament. 

From one point of view wisdom is a poetic way of speaking of God’s own presence detected in the beauty of nature and in the collective good sense of human beings. Thus, “seeking wisdom” is ultimately seeking and finding God.

That is why in today’s selection, the author speaks so eloquently of this wisdom. (The word for “wisdom” or “sophia” is always feminine.) “I preferred her [wisdom] to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I like any priceless gem to her; because all gold is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire. Beyond health and comeliness, I loved her, and I chose to have her rather than the light.” 

The responsorial psalm today moves in the same direction: “Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy! Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.”

Jesus’ disciples are shaken by the experience of the man who went away sad because he had many possessions. “Then who can be saved?” they ask themselves. Jesus’ answer is ultimately reassuring: “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”

What became of the man who encountered Jesus with his earnest question? We don’t hear of him again in the Gospel. Did he eventually forget about this moment with Jesus? Or did his sadness linger and at some point he changed his mind and came back to follow the Good Teacher?  

What we do know is that Jesus loved him, and that redeeming love would never cease or be in vain.


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