Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Down through the ages, men and women have asked deep questions about the meaning of eternity. We have only to think about the creative arts which often reflect this. How many plays, books and operas have been written about eternal love, eternal life, eternal youth, eternal separation?
As a lover of opera Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Verdi’s La Traviata instantly come to mind. There are others. At this year’s Edinburgh International Festival there was a production of Dido’s Ghost performed by the Dunedin Consort. Some of you may have seen it. In it, the story of Dido and Aeneas, originally set to music by Henry Purcell around 1688, was updated. It didn’t end with Dido’s death. The tale has been continued.
In many churches the Nicene Creed is said ending with the familiar words “And I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”. In our own church, we remember Sunday by Sunday, those who have died with the words “Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord” and our corporate response “And let light perpetual shine upon them”. Eternity has not been forgotten about.
In his commentary on Mark’s gospel, the well-known biblical scholar, Professor William Barclay, writes “we must note how the man came and how Jesus met him. He came running. He flung himself at Jesus’ feet. Jesus confronted him with a challenge and even what appears to be a rebuttal. He did not receive the answer which he was expecting. He had great possessions. It had never entered his head to give away what he owned. When it was suggested to him, he could not do this. True he had never stolen. He had never defrauded anyone – but neither had he ever been, nor could he compel himself to be, positively and sacrificially generous”. That was a step too far. Some might say he was too good for his own good.
The German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) comments that “the difference between ourselves and the rich young man is that he was not allowed to solace his regrets by saying “Never mind what Jesus says, I can still hold on to my riches, but in a spirit of inner detachment. But no, he went away sorrowful because he could not obey, he could not believe. In this, the young man was quite honest. He went away from Jesus. This honesty had more promise that any apparent communion with Jesus based upon disobedience”.
Jesus recognises how tough a thing he asked of the rich young man when he looked at his disciples and said “how hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God”. The disciples were equally perplexed.
Today’s gospel challenges us about our priorities and those things which are important to us. Unlike St Francis of Assisi, whose feast day was last Monday, 4th October, I doubt we are being called to sell all that we have. The challenge to us in asking that same question may be to share something of our riches, our time, our friendship, our love, our gifts with those around us to bring in God’s kingdom and the inheritance of eternal life just now.
We pray for all who are afraid to give and afraid to share,
For all who have amassed wealth but are poor in spirit,
For all who are suffering through the greed and avarice of others.
Lord, give us grace and help in all our needs.