Their iniquities are not hidden from him,
and all their sins are before the Lord.
One's almsgiving is like a signet ring with the Lord,
and he will keep a person's kindness like the apple of his eye.
Afterward he will rise up and repay them,
and he will bring their recompense on their heads.
Yet to those who repent he grants a return,
and he encourages those who are losing hope.
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.'" He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."
The paradox of voluntarily losing something in order to gain something else appears both in 1 Peter and in Mark, and is a hallmark of Markan (and of Petrine) theology, for Mark was Saint Peter's disciple and helper in Rome. This principle also has a number of practical applications outside the religious sphere. The gambler knows that she or he stands to lose the wagered amount--but risks it just the same, in hope of the prize to be won, whether on the card-table, the racetrack or the stock-market. The farmer knows what must first be spent on seed, grain and fertilizer, in order to ensure a crop. And how many physicians urge their patients to lose some weight, in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle.
This imperative is echoed in today's austere message, where in a memorable image Jesus expresses the no pain, no gain philosophy. "It is easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." The anonymous rich young man was ready for other aspects of discipleship, perhaps: the learning, the travelling, the companionship--but not this stark call to renunciation. The riches and talents of life can block and stultify us unless they are enjoyed in accordance with God's will and in a spirit of service and of sharing with our neighbour. That other haunting statement of Jesus comes back to mind: "Whoever loses his life will save it" (Mark 8:35).
While First Peter is among the most life-affirming documents in the New Testament, it too has more than a hint of the world-renouncing principle. Peter sees the glory of the Risen Jesus transforming us from within, we who have been reborn by baptism into an imperishable inheritance. It looks as if this epistle began as a baptismal homily, possibly in Rome, when entering the outlawed early church carried with it the risk of martyrdom. This risk to one's life and freedom lends special quality to what Peter says about the life-enhancing grace of baptism. Through it we begin a new life, the glorious life of Jesus, a source of extraordinary joy and strength now, a pledge of what is "to be revealed in the last days."
Sometimes when we ask a question, we can find the answer to our question difficult to come to terms with. That is the case with the rich man who ran up to Jesus in this morning's Gospel with the question, 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?' When Jesus asked him to go beyond the Ten Commandments he had been keeping and to sell all he owned and follow Jesus along the way, he couldn't live with that answer. We are told that he walked away sad. Jesus did not ask everybody he met to sell everything and to journey with him, but he did ask this man. This was this man's particular calling. Like this man, we can often find ourselves faced with a call to do something which seems beyond us. The temptation can be to walk away from the call, even though to say 'yes' to the call would be the path to life for us. The Lord can call any one of us beyond where we are; he can call on us to grow in our relationship with him, to be more generous in our response to his presence. We may not be able to answer that call in our own strength, but we will be able to answer it with the Lord's strength. In the Gospel reading, Jesus declares that 'everything is possible for God.' When Mary was called to become the mother of Jesus and she hesitated, that was the message she heard. The angel declared to her 'Nothing will be impossible with God.' It is the message we too will hear whenever we seek to answer the Lord's call to us.