FROM A READING FOR OCT. 11, 28TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit...able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart...' -- Hebrews 4:12


Some of us have been traditionally confused about the message the historical Jesus actually preached. Those who believe, for instance, that He primarily came to get us into heaven will have problems with Sunday's Gospel (Mark 10:17-30).

Listen carefully to the dialogue between Jesus and the rich young man. The man begins the encounter by asking a question we've all asked one time or another: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" In other words, "What must I do to get to heaven?"

As a good Pharisee, Jesus basically responds, "Keep the commandments." When the man assures Jesus he's already done this, the Galilean carpenter looks at him lovingly and responds, "You're lacking in one thing" -- obviously, not lacking in one thing to get into heaven. Jesus has already assured him he's going to achieve that goal by keeping the commandments.

The man is lacking in something which will help him achieve fulfillment in this life right here and now, long before he inherits eternal life: "Go, sell what you have, give the money to the poor...then come, follow me."

Wealth vs. God
As the man disappears into the distance, Jesus reflects on his refusal to take the life-changing step of discipleship: "How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God. It's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

A wealthy individual -- as long as he or she insists on maintaining their wealth -- has the chance of a snowball in hell of surfacing God working effectively in their everyday life. Putting people in the forefront of our lives and relegating money and power to the background is an essential part of the "repentance" Jesus demands of His followers. No one can notice God present and working day by day without first doing it.

When His disciples point out that such a commitment is normally impossible for a wealthy person to make, Jesus assures them God will help him or her pull it off. Only with God's assistance can we reach the salvation - experiencing "God's kingdom" -- which Jesus offers His followers.

As the late New Testament scholar Marcus Borg emphasized in his classic book, "Speaking Christian," we've done a great disservice to the historical Jesus and His earliest followers by reducing His ministry to simply learning how to avoid hell and get into heaven.

The famous Scripture scholar insisted that when Jesus originally spoke about "being saved," He was referring to the quality of life He wanted His followers to experience right here and now, not the life we hope to receive after our physical deaths.

Living Word
I presume the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 4:12-13) would list Jesus' dialogue with the rich young man as one of those "living and effective" Words of God. It's certainly "sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow."

Though we long to identify with the author of Wisdom (7:7-11) in reaching that moment in our present lives when "all good things come to [us] in [Wisdom's] company, and countless riches at her hands," we have to pay a price to achieve such a state of existence. Like the sacred writer, we seriously have to want that kind of life. It's not something that'll come our way by accident.

Remember Jesus' Gospel promise that whatever we give up here and now, we'll eventually receive back in spades here and now -- and also remember that if the historical Jesus hadn't already had this experience, He wouldn't have been so anxious to share this living and effective Word.