By Bishop Paul
“And as He was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ And he said to Him, ‘Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.’ And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions” [Mark 10:17-22].
Here we encounter a man who ran up and knelt before Jesus, only to walk away from Him after hearing His response. To date, I was concerned that my notes might be coming across as “Four Easy Steps to Unconditional Love,” or “Follow This Formula and All Will Be Well.” Obviously, this is not the case.
Why do some people accept and embrace Christ and others turn away?
It is a bit mind boggling to read the lives of saints in which we often encounter accounts of the martyr’s persecutors repenting and becoming followers of Christ. Yet at the same time, there are many accounts of people who, when faced with holy lives and the demonstration of God’s power through miracles, only become more determined to intensify their hatred and persecution of Christians, to the point of seeing to it that they are slain.
Saint John the Baptist’s father, Zachariah, is told by the archangel Gabriel that he will not be able to speak because he asked, “How shall I know this?” concerning whether his barren wife Elizabeth would give birth. No such thing happens to the Virgin Mary when she asks the same question of Gabriel regarding giving birth without having known a man. “How can this be?” she asks. Peter denies Christ and weeps bitterly and is reconciled to Christ; Judas betrays Christ and hangs himself in despair after having realized that he had betrayed “innocent blood.”
I wish to offer a few additional thoughts for further reflection. None of us can know the heart of another person or what is “going on” with him or her. That is why we are called not to judge others. We don’t know the whole story. Faith is not a formula; it is a great mystery concerning God the Father, Who reveals Himself to us in the person of His Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
Our Savior Himself tells His disciples in John 15 “if they hated me, they will hate you.” So as much as we go about striving to love others unconditionally, we shouldn’t be surprised if that unconditional love is not always reciprocated. Our Lord didn’t seek to win a popularity contest. His ministry on earth came to an end by dying a criminal’s death on a cross. “Cursed is anyone who is hung on a tree.” Yet this scandal of our Lord’s death on the cross delivers us from death, and points to our own resurrection in Him. This is the mystery of our Baptism into His death and resurrection into newness of life.
Perhaps the best way to make sense of this issue is to look at the parable of the Sower of the Seed in the eighth chapter of Luke. This is a wonderful explanation of how various people respond of the sowing of the Word of God and the Good News.
I welcome your comments on this reflection; I had a hard time writing it. Any thoughts you could offer would be of great help to me.
Christ is risen!