Obstacles to Discipleship

Theological Reflection for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (year B)

October 11, 2009

1st Reading: Wis 7:7-11; 2nd Reading: Heb 4:12-13; Gospel: Mk 10:17-30

In today’s gospel passage a man comes up to Jesus, kneels before Him and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17). At the end of the conversation Jesus invites the rich man to a life of radical discipleship; “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor…then come follow me.” (Mk 10:22). The Bible tells us that; “At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” (Mk 10:22). Jesus uses the occasion to teach, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mk 10:23). What lesson can we draw from this passage? What challenge does it give us as Christians? The passage of our reflection contains three different episodes, which we shall explain one by one.

The first episode (Mk 10:17-22) shows wealth/riches as an obstacle to discipleship. Jesus was an itinerant preacher.  To follow him means to adopt this itinerant lifestyle. It means adopting the simplest way of life. It is a life of sacrifice with one staff, no bread, no money, and no extra clothes.  This rich man’s problem is that he is unwilling to adopt the simple style necessary for him to be a true missionary and disciple of Jesus. His possessions were an obstacle to his possible participation in Jesus’ ministry. The lesson in this episode is that those who want to follow Jesus should cultivate a habit of living a simple life style. Christians should not allow concern for earthly possessions to prevent them from their mission. What are your own obstacles? What are the things preventing you from following Jesus? Some of us have no money or wealth but we swim in the ocean of gossip, jealousy, selfishness, and self-centeredness. These are all obstacles to discipleship and we have to let go of them.

The second episode (Mk 10:23-27) shows a teaching on how hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.  This episode is one of the bases for the doctrine of God’s preferential option for the poor. God’s kingdom is a divine gift, but it is often best appreciated by those who are materially poor. Most times, the rich are so preoccupied with material things that they do not recognize this gift. Notably, Jesus does not condemn riches by this teaching. It is not a bad thing to be rich. And as we say in Nigeria, “Money is the vehicle of evangelization”. We obviously need money to evangelize, to spread the Gospel, but we cannot allow it to distract us from the mission. In other words, money should be at the service of evangelization, and not the other way around. Today’s message is a big challenge for us, today’s Christians. How do we detach from people, position, or any other thing that constitutes an obstacle for discipleship?

In the third episode (Mk 10:28-31) Jesus promises rewards to those who have embraced a life of poverty in order to proclaim the kingdom of God. Their rewards are both present, and eschatological (future, or, in the age to come). Jesus promises, “Anyone who has given up house, brother, sister, or mother, or father, or land for my sake…will receive a hundred times more now in this present age… and eternal life in the age to come.” (Mk 10:29-30). By becoming a disciple, the family we have left behind will be replaced by a new family. That was why the early Christians addressed each other as “brother” and “sister”. And that is why at every Eucharistic celebration the priest addresses the congregation/assembly, “Pray my brothers and sisters…”

This gospel passage is an encouragement to anyone who wants to embrace missionary life. We should not be afraid to leave home, friends, family, property, position, etc. For us Christians everywhere is home, and everyone in the Christian community is our sister and brother.  A few years ago, just before Thanksgiving, a parishioner asked me a question, “Father, where will you be going for Thanksgiving dinner? Do you have any family here in New York?” I responded, “Yes, I do. I have 3700 members in my family!”  That response was based on my philosophy that “my parish is my family”. One of the challenges we have today is to embrace and treat those who have abandoned everything (lay, religious and clergy missionaries) as our brothers and sisters. The last thing that should bother a missionary is what to eat, what to wear, and where to live.  It is our responsibility to take care of them.

Today’s gospel passage shows us that it is good to have money, wealth, and riches but all these put together is not a guarantee for a fulfilled life on earth, or eternal life in the end. Why? Because, money can buy you a house, but not a home; it can help you to get a woman, but not a wife; a man but not a husband; momentary happiness but not joy; achievement, but not fulfillment.  No wonder the rich man asked the question, “What must I do to have eternal life?”

May this liturgy give us the grace to detach ourselves from anything that may distract us from following Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.   

Rejoice Always!

Fr. Clem Oyafemi

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