As we farewell our Year 12 students from Saints, it is timely to ask, What is truly important in your life? In the Gospel according to Mark (10: 17–27), a man comes and asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Essentially the same story occurs in Matthew 19: 16–30 and Luke 17: 18–30.
When the New Testament talks about eternal life, it generally means two complementary things:
- Life after death, or eternity: a life in God’s eternal presence, a place where the essence of who we are, everything that is beautiful and wonderful about us, lives on in God’s presence beyond the ravages of time, age, ill health and injury; and,
- A beautiful life now: a life lived full of hope, in which we feel truly supported and loved and fulfilled.
So, what this wealthy man is really asking Jesus is, What is truly important in life? What do I need to do to have a fulfilling life now and an eternal life with God forever?
What is truly important in life?
First, Jesus lists six of the ten Commandments, the ones which are all about particular actions: not killing, not betraying your loved ones, not stealing or lying or defrauding, and (the positively expressed commandment) honouring your parents. The man is insistent that he has kept all of them since his youth. Jesus looks at him and loves him. Just think about that for a minute: it’s a reminder to all of us, that Jesus loves us. I don’t mean that flippantly: Jesus knows who we are, what our strengths are, what our weaknesses are too, and loves us. Jesus loves this man who comes to him asking about what is truly important in life.
I think Jesus was a really intuitive person, a socially intelligent person, because he works out that there is something holding this man back from being truly fulfilled and happy.
In his case, it’s his wealth. That’s not the same for everyone, of course. There are lots of different things which hold us back from being truly happy, from embracing the promise of eternal life. But all of us will have something which has the potential to hold us back.
We can’t earn our way into eternal life – it’s not like there is a magic formula. It’s not the case that, if we follow a particular set of rules, then we will earn our place in heaven. It doesn’t work like that. Eternal life, both in the sense of eternity, but also in the sense of a truly fulfilling life now, is not something that can be earned.
However, there are things that God calls us to do, which do actually have a positive impact on people around us, and which also help us cast aside the things that keep us from God. You can’t earn eternal life, but it’s certainly true that there are things which will keep us from having a truly fulfilling life, if we let them.
For the wealthy man in this reading, it is precisely his wealth that is keeping him from God. Jesus intuitively senses that the man’s wealth had become an obsession and was preventing him from realising what was truly important in life. It was preventing him from being close to God and to others.
Sometimes there are things that we need to give up or set aside. Meditative prayer life is one place to begin to discern what God might be asking us to give up, or indeed what positive thing God might be asking us to take up.
The Reverend Dr Theo McCall