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Leave the goods to get the good

In the first part of the passage a rich young man enters the scene fast seeking advice to inherit eternal life. He is a just person and is conscious of having led a blameless life. Yet one feels that there is a deep concern in him that makes him suffer as if it were a spiritual infirmity. 

Jesus responds with a counter question that can be paraphrased thus: You already have “an outstanding teacher, God,” who instructs you through the scriptures. What else do you want? 

The response of the rich young man is amazing. He declares, convinced, he has observed all the commandments right from the use of reason (v.20). Jesus, on hearing the rich young man, “looked steadily at him and loved him.”

Mark is pleased to remember the eyes of Jesus. He looks at the rich young man with affection, with satisfaction, because he sees him prepared to make the leap.

He then throws out the decisive demand: “Go, sell what you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and follow me.”

Jesus highlights the inconsistency of the goods of this world and to show how to use them according to God. 

We might paraphrase his proposal this way: “Strip yourself of all the assets you have, do not throw them away, but give them to one in need. You will remain poor and God will be your treasure.”

This is not a new commandment, added to those of the Decalogue, but the invitation to adhere to an entirely new logic.

It asks for the abandonment of any egoistic use, not only of money, but of all goods—intelligence, health, beauty, time—all abilities received from God.

One cannot be his disciple if he or she does not detach the heart from what one possesses. 

In the face of this world’s goods, Jesus takes on a completely different attitude. He does not despise them, but shows how to value them: They are to be donated to the poor. 

The ideal of the Christian is not misery, famine or nakedness, but the fraternal sharing of the goods that God has made available to everyone. Sin is not getting rich, but to enrich only oneself. 

In Mark, the story bitterly ends: the rich young man chooses to stay with his goods. He dares not trust the proposal of Jesus, not bringing himself to take risks, afraid of losing everything and sad, he walks away. He was afflicted because he could not break away from the goods. 

 The second part of the passage (vv.23-27) relates the consideration of Jesus about the dangers of wealth. “It is easier—ensures Jesus—for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

 Someone tried to interpret this strange image, explaining that this is not a camel, but a hawser (the two words are very similar in Greek), or the eye of the needle-—a small door in the city of Jerusalem. It is better to keep the paradoxical image used by Jesus than talking about an “impossible decision” (v.27).

The detachment from all that one possesses requires an act of generosity that only a miracle of God can help one do it.

 The disciples whom the Master addresses are not rich, but are astonished by his words. They understood that one who is poor must divest himself of all.

It is not about giving a lot or a little, but to offer all that one is and what one has, much or little it is.

Father Fernando Armellini CMF