In today’s gospel reading, two things are seen as wealth—material possessions and religious-moral identity. I call it religious-moral identity because for Jewish people, at the time of Jesus, there was no distinction between material possessions, cultural practices, and religious practices. They were combined together into one religious-moral self. In other words, this is who I am and my wealth verifies who I am.
The passage that we heard is from the 10th Chapter of Mark and what follows the passage is Jesus’ announcement that he must go up to Jerusalem to suffer and to die. He must empty himself and experience God in a way he has never experienced God before. This gives us a clue about the wealth the young man is unwilling to give up.
It is not only the wealth of his material possessions. It is the wealth of his religious-moral complacency. The young man believes he knows what is good. He is already confident in what he has done and what he must do. But Jesus points out to him that no-one is good but God. It is time for him to broaden his understanding of God—to clear out his treasure chest of religious-moral identity to make more room for God. He must become poor in spirit so that God can enter his life in new and marvelous ways. It is time for him to realize that by his religious-moral complacency he has put limits on God.
But we live in a different world today, where our families, jobs, and additional responsibilities challenge and invite us to look at our religious-moral identity in a broader way. Many of us wear a ring. Rings are symbols of wealth. They are made of expensive metals and stones. Wedding rings symbolize the wealth of love between a husband and wife. Class rings symbolize the wealth of an education. Take a good look and tell me where a ring begins and where the ring ends. I believe it is impossible. There is no beginning or end. That’s the way it is with God. God has no beginning and no end. Then why should we hang our discipleship on the wealth of the past? We should be busy discovering how God encircles our lives each day and respond by becoming a new and improved person.
Fr. Bob Kelly OP