The National Catholic Review
A fifth story Mark includes under the second passion/resurrection prediction of Jesus has to do with little children finding access to Jesus. Though no reason is given why people sought Jesus’ blessing, it seems obvious to say that they trusted that through him the blessings of God would embrace the children. The scene does show a touching aspect of Jesus’ character, as he embraced and blessed the children. Again, though no reason is given why the disciples wanted to keep the children away from Jesus, it seems obvious that they wanted him not to be bothered or disturbed. This desire is founded on the belief that children are ’better seen than heard’, and that blessings upon adults are blessings enjoyed by all their families. But Jesus sees in this tension a moment of teaching. First, in Jesus’ mind, ’coming to Jesus’ is ’coming to the kingdom which belongs to them’. Why does the kingdom belong to them? It belongs to anyone who has the simplicity and eagerness and proper humility and desire for it. The child, in short, is the human being who has not yet substituted anything else in place of God. That person who knows only Yahweh as God – to that person belongs the kingdom of God. Jesus’ second statement underlines the result of having other than Yahweh as one’s God. Underneath all this is the Marcan faith which identifies Jesus as Son of God, as divine, as the object of worship and obedience. Next we hear of Jesus setting out on a journey (probably the first steps towards Jerusalem). To Jesus comes a man who clearly reverences and respects Jesus; he comes to find out what Jesus thinks he must do inherit eternal life. The phrasing of his question is very Jewish: he is to do something and he is, like a son, to inherit eternal life. Mark had just noted Jesus’ teaching that one enters the kingdom of God if one worships God alone, is totally devoted to God. Will this man show himself to be this kind of person? Verses 17-22 treat the personal story of the man of good will. Jesus’ apparently odd remark, that no one is good but God, means simply to underline that God, not Jesus, is the one who defines what is necessary to inherit life. This man will find no other teaching from Jesus than what God has first taught. Thus, Jesus turns attention immediately to the commandments God had already given. Rarely do the Gospels describe Jesus as ’loving’ an individual, but this love is noted because it is the reason for offering this particular individual the gift of physically following Jesus. The emphasis here, however, is on the fact that to follow Jesus includes ’selling all’. That the man will give the sales money to the poor, which act will give him a treasure (in heaven), does not soften the apparent difficulty of ’selling all’. Sadness at not accepting Jesus’ invitation, at not being with Jesus so closely, is the result of knowing the possible life the man has lost, because of his preference for his ’many possessions.’ The man was unwilling to trade his wealth for Jesus, and for treasure in heaven. The story now shifts its focus from the man to the disciples. They interact with Jesus, who begins the thought process here. He can only exclaim how hard it is for people who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. He is not precisely lamenting the singular situation of the man; Jesus now looks beyond the man to all who are wealthy. Wealth will make entry into the kingdom of God very difficult. We recall that in the ’seed’ parable (c. 4), concern for wealth was a reason why the seed could not grow. The comparison with a camel passing through a tiny hole emphasizes how difficult it is to manage wealth and at the same time enter the kingdom of heaven. The situation now Jesus now describes is not that of the young man who was asked ’to sell all’; the situation is that of the threat wealth offers to one wanting God; it all comes down, for Jesus: which will I serve, God or wealth? The man had refused a life with Jesus because of wealth; will the rest us refuse the kingdom because of wealth? It is only God who will make it possible that I prefer Him to my wealth. Indeed, though it may appear that I give up so much for God, even to being persecuted, I should watch in my own life how much God blesses me for my remaining with Him, for choosing Him above everything and everyone else. But, Jesus warns at the end, one who begins will with God can end up losing Him; and one who begins poorly with God can end up possessing him. A word to the wise...! John Kilgallen, S.J.