Studying God’s Word

Wisdom 7:7-11
Hebrews 4:12-13
Mark 10:17-30 [143B]

In the Gospel reading for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus warns against the false sense of security often derived from wealth and an abundance of possessions. This was a countercultural message as relevant in the ancient world as it is today in the modern world. 
Commentators often remark that the Gospel of Mark presents a “low Christology”; that is, Mark tends to emphasize the human side of Jesus. Today’s reading offers a good example. The brief exchange between Jesus and the rich man begins with a curious reaction by Jesus to the rich man referring to him as “good.” Jesus repudiates the rich man for calling him “good”: “No one is good but God alone.” Mark presents Jesus distancing himself from the majesty of God. (Another example of Mark’s low Christology was seen earlier in the storyline when Mark reports on Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth, commenting that because of the Nazarenes’ lack of faith, Jesus “was not able to perform any mighty deeds there,” 6:5.)
In today’s Gospel reading, the rich man fully anticipates an affirmation from Jesus that by living his life as a law-abiding Jew, he would “inherit eternal life.” The man “went away sad” when Jesus pushed him to take one further step: “Go, sell what you have… then come, follow me.” The disciples, too, were “amazed” and “exceedingly astonished” at Jesus’ words, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” In antiquity, people commonly associated wealth and possessions as a sign and symbol of God’s blessings. Befuddled, the disciples ask Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus’ answer puts inheritance of eternal life outside the realm of possibility for humans alone; eternal life is a gift that only God grants: “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.”
The first reading comes from the Book of Wisdom. This text is actually a compilation of wisdom teachings written about a hundred years before the birth of Christ. Today’s reflection on the virtues of prudence and wisdom articulates well the disposition that Jesus encouraged his disciples and the rich man to adopt. The divine gift of prudence and wisdom is more precious than power, wealth, health, and beauty. According to the Jewish sage, the exercise of wisdom and prudence never sleeps, helps make sense of all good things, and is the source of true wealth.
Once again, the second reading is taken from the Letter to the Hebrews. One of the valuable insights that Hebrews offers contemporary Christians is a glimpse into how early Christians defined themselves in relation to other religions, including Judaism. The author of Hebrews viewed Christianity as the continuation and fulfillment of the promises God made to Israel. Through the suffering death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus into heaven, God established a “new” covenant, making the first covenant with Israel, “obsolete” (Heb 8:13). The author of Hebrews is not devaluing Israel’s covenantal history; he is affirming the fulfillment of God’s promise made to Israel in his Son, Jesus. As Hebrews indicates in today’s reading, “the word of God is living and effective.” In Jesus’ message to the rich man and the disciples, we see God’s word at work.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz