The scene painted by St. Mark in this week’s Gospel juxtaposes our materially poor Lord and the rich young man who throws himself at the feet of Jesus. The rich young man is teeming with emotion and uses flattery to get Jesus’ attention. You can almost imagine the moment: The rich man throws himself at the feet of Jesus, perhaps fascinated by the Lord. In reply, Jesus cuts through the man’s emotions as if to say, “Save the flattery. Don’t let your enthusiasm be driven by mere emotion. Do you realize what you are asking me? Are you ready to pay the cost of doing good?” Jesus is not trying to shut out the man, but Jesus is trying to move him to see that there are sobering realities associated with authentic discipleship.
Our Lord then draws a distinction between moral respectability and true Christian discipleship. The rich young man is a respectable person. He has kept the tenets of the Ten Commandments all of his life. That is the basis of moral respectability: not doing evil things. Jesus raises the bar: Avoiding evil is not enough — an authentic disciple of Christ must be prepared to do good as well. Jesus challenges the rich young man to do more than simply avoid doing evil. Instead, Jesus calls him to perfection: to detach himself from all of his belongings and to follow Him unreservedly.
In challenging the man, Jesus looks at him lovingly. His love can be described in three ways. First, the glance of Jesus is that of a love that appeals to the heart of the young man. Despite His initial rebuke of the rich young man’s flattery, Jesus is not angry. He appeals to the rich young man to take the next step in his faith journey and pursue perfection.
Second, Jesus’ glance issues a challenge to the rich young man and his honor. Christ invites him to put aside the comfort and familiarity of his life to come and follow the Lord unreservedly and without concern for his own welfare. To follow Jesus is nothing less than the adventure of a lifetime.
Third, Jesus’ glance also includes the sorrow of knowing that the rich young man could have been a great disciple, but his unwillingness to take up Christ’s challenge evokes sentiments of heartbreak over untapped potential.
For us, the challenge is no different. The distinction that Jesus draws between simply not doing evil and doing positive good is real in our lives. The first maxim of the moral life is to do good and avoid evil. The ordering of the dictates is not insignificant. Simply avoiding evil is not enough for a true disciple. We must be committed first to doing good. In fact, if one is so consumed with doing good, one might not even have the time or energy to consider evil at all. Instead, many persons tend to reverse this first maxim of the moral life. They will spend all of their effort avoiding evil and hardly any time concentrating on doing good. Jesus’ challenge to the rich young man invites us to emerge from mere moral respectability (avoiding evil) and plunge deeply into the adventurous waters of true discipleship (doing good).