‘A man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17) In a sense, this is an odd question, for we cannot do anything to inherit; an inheritance is something that is given, left to us by another, a gift. So, perhaps the question might be better put as: “What must I do to be a good son/daughter so that I might not be left out of the Will?” Jesus answer, then, makes a little more sense: “You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour your father and mother.” (Mark 10:19) For a son in those times was one who does his father’s will, and doing the things mentioned (keeping the Commandments) would show him to be a true child of God, one who does God-his-Father’s will. (C.f.: John 8:35) The man responds, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” (Mark 10:20) Then we are told: ‘Jesus looked at him and loved him.’ (Mark 10:21) In a sense, Jesus embodied/incarnated God’s love for this man (c.f.: John 3:16) — much in the way God his Father had looked at him: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11. C.f.: John 5:19)

Out of this love — in a way reminiscent of the opening of our Rule: “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions (c.f.: Mark 10:17), and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.” (Rule of St Benedict Prologue:1) — Jesus says to the man, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21) Then we are told: ‘But the young man, saddened by the counsel, went away in sorrow, for he was someone who had many possessions.’ (Mark 10:22) Much in line with Jesus’ parable of The Man who had Two Sons (Matthew 21:28ff), Jesus does not remonstrate with him for his unwillingness, but just watches him go (Mark 10:23) … ‘because he is a merciful [father who] expects that he will change for the better,’ as Benedict puts it. (Rule of St Benedict 7:30) Maybe, like the Prodigal Son when all these things he is unwilling to give up are taken from him, he will come to his senses and return to Jesus to follow him. (Luke 15:17)

In asking the man to sell all he has and then to come and follow, Jesus (who responded to another man who said that he would follow him wherever he went, saying, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20) is asking him to become as homeless as he is; we can understand his reluctance. Jesus’ disciples are stunned by what has just taken place in this exchange with the rich man, for in explaining it to them, Jesus says to them, “Children, how difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23-24) In the dawning light that the truth of their situation is that homeless might be the best they can hope for, they say to him in incredulity, “Can’t you see: we’ve left everything we had to cling to you.” (Mark 10:28) Jesus answers them with firm assurance: “Listen to my words: Anyone who leaves his home behind and chooses me over children, parents, family, and possessions, all for the sake of the gospel, it will come back to him a hundred times as much in this lifetime — homes, family, mothers, brothers, sisters, children, possessions — along with persecutions. And in the age to come, he will inherit eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

All these things — homes, family, mothers, brothers, sisters, children, possessions — are what all are asked to forego in order to follow Jesus; such is the cost of discipleship. Here in this exchange with his disciples, Jesus calls them, “Children.” (Mark 10:24) Earlier in Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus began attracting large crowds through his healing works, there were those who said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” (Mark 3:22) His family were a little kinder. For we are told, when his family heard it, that they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” When they did show up and he was told that they were outside wanting to see him, he said to them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:32-35) Jesus himself had to forego home, family and possessions for the sake of the Gospel. (C.f.: Mark 6:6)

Now Jesus lets them know that, here in in themselves and in all those who follow him ‘for the sake of the Gospel,’ he has been given a great treasure: his own children! With Isaiah he could say, “Who has borne me these? I was bereft and barren, exiled, turned out of my home; who has reared these? I was left all alone, so where have these come from?” (Isaiah 49:21) But, of course, he knows that it is God his Father who has given them to him. (John 6:44; 17:6. C.f.: Mark 10:17, 30) What Jesus is telling those who have left everything to follow him (including ourselves) is that there will be others like themselves who will likewise respond to the Gospel and leave everything. These will join them in the now to follow them like family — sisters, brothers, and mothers — and in this Gospel fellowship they will find their home. (John 14:23) But it does come with a caveat: “not without persecutions.” This, too, was part of Jesus’ lot for having left everything: Over dinner, while they were reclining around the table, Jesus said, “Listen to the truth: One of you eating here with me is about to betray me.” (Mark 14:18)

What Jesus is wanting to say to us and all who follow him is that we can expect to treated no differently : “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too; If they kept my word, they will keep yours as well.” (John 15:20) But he does want to reassure us: that, even so, what God gives in return for leaving everything for the sake of the Gospel is worth ever so much more. (Mark 10:29. C.f.: 4:20) “My brothers (Rule of St Benedict 7:5), let me say to you: With you I have found that great gift, a home with Jesus and God his Father in our midst. (John 14:23; Matthew 18:20) For this I am grateful. Thank you very much!

By Dom Steele Hartmann OCSO