Does Jesus' command to the man to sell everything apply to us also?

Homily for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

We could imagine that for anyone to live at the time of Jesus and meet Jesus in person it would be a great privilege and grace. I am sure that all of us here would like to have been in Palestine on that day when Jesus met the man who asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life, as we heard in today’s Gospel (Mark 10:17). We would like to have met with Jesus too and spoken to him. We would remember it for the rest of our lives. We read in the Gospels of so many people meeting Jesus and going away completely transformed. So many people who met Jesus were healed of illnesses. So many people who met Jesus went away happy. But in the Gospel today a man meets Jesus and goes away sad (Mark 10:22). It is the only time in all the Gospels that someone who was called by Jesus went away sad. This meeting between the man and Jesus showed such promise and yet ended so badly.

The disturbing thing is that we can see aspects of ourselves in this man also which begs the question, “are we going away sad or happy when we meet Jesus in the many ways in which we meet him?” Let’s look at some of the things we may have in common with the man.

  • The man was a spiritual person. He asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life. He was genuinely interested in growing closer to God. He had kept all the commandments from his youth. Like this man we are also searching to come closer to God and we want to inherit eternal life.

  • Jesus looked steadily at the man and was filled with love for him. Some scholars believe that Mark intends us to understand that Jesus embraced or hugged the man. We know that Jesus loves each of us also. Jesus appreciates our efforts to discern what he asks of us. Jesus appreciates our efforts to leave sin behind and live a new life of grace. Jesus appreciates our efforts to love God above all and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

  • The man was already living a very good life but Jesus had much more in mind for him. Jesus knew that he was capable of achieving even greater heights of holiness so Jesus invited him to raise his goal, “You are lacking in one thing.” (Mark 10:21) The man had all the money he needed but he was still lacking in one thing. We are all lacking in at least one thing and perhaps many things in order to achieve more holiness and come closer to God.

  • Then Jesus gave the man the challenge which he was unwilling to accept; go, sell, give, come, follow;

“Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

The young man was unwilling to make this sacrifice and went away sad. Now we can see that he was not as close to God as we might at first have imagined. He was obeying all the rules but his heart was still not focused properly on God. He was getting the externals right but interiorly in his heart he was not giving first place to God. He reminds me of the passage in Matthew where Jesus says,

“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matt 6:24)

The man in the Gospel is a contrast to King Solomon whom we are to understand is talking in the first reading. He says he placed wisdom or prudence, which we could say is right relationship with God, before riches. At that moment of his reign King Solomon had both externals and his heart focused properly on God but later he would wander from this path of truth and happiness.

Naturally the question we all have on our minds now is what does that command of Jesus to the man mean for me? Does Jesus ask me to go, sell, give, come, follow? Do we have to understand Jesus very radically, literally demanding that we give up everything, or is there some other way in which we are meant to understand what Jesus is asking of us who listen to this Gospel today? Let’s look at some different ways in which this command of Jesus has been followed or is followed today.

1. In the early Church in the years immediately after Pentecost this teaching of Jesus was lived in a radical way. We know from reading the Acts of the Apostles that the early Christians in Jerusalem sold all their possessions keeping nothing for themselves and shared everything in common. It is difficult to know for how many years that radical form of living continued in Jerusalem but we know that it did not continue for too many years.

2. Jesus does call some people now to radically give up everything as he called the man in today’s Gospel. We can think of all those in religious vows in the Catholic Church who take a vow of poverty. Different religious congregations take different vows but most take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Priests and religious who take the vow of poverty have no personal possessions to enable them to be more dedicated to God but their religious congregation provides for all their temporal and physical needs. Some of the saints were called to be particular examples in the vow of poverty e.g. St. Francis of Assisi.

3. Diocesan priests like me take two vows, the vow of celibacy and obedience. Even though we do not take a vow of poverty we aspire to live with simplicity of life and not to live in a way that would be an obstacle to our following of Jesus. That is also the way that most people who read today’s Gospel understand it as applying to their own personal lives. You do not sell everything but you do not want anything you own or possess to be an obstacle in your relationship with God. You want to have your heart focused firmly on God. You do not want to be a slave to mammon, you want to put God first in your life. When we have more than we need we naturally want to help those who are in need. So the Catechism of the Catholic Church states,

In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself. The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family. (Catechism of the Catholic Church §2404)

4. We do not have to see Jesus’ command to the man - go, sell, give, come, follow - as applying only to money. The one thing in which we are lacking may be something else. We may be lacking in some virtue. We may be proud or selfish or lustful and thus lacking in humility or altruism or purity of heart. In my ministry I have discovered that many people really know the one virtue they are lacking in or need to grow in. Many people are not blind to themselves but are sufficiently sensitive to be aware of how they can grow in holiness. We almost certainly know what is the thing lacking in our life and how the Lord is challenging us to grow in following him. As our second reading from Heb 4:12-13 said, the Word of God shows up our secret emotions and thoughts, everything is uncovered before the Word of God.

When we do respond to Jesus’ challenge, Jesus promises us, as he promised the man in today’s Gospel, “treasure in heaven.” (Mark 10:21) Jesus wants only what is best for us and if we take up his challenge to us, whatever it may be, we can be sure that it will bring us only happiness. We want to do whatever the Lord asks of us, we want to follow him that we may have treasure in heaven.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2006

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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