Gospel Mk 6:7-13
“Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
When the lawyer in today’s reading stands before Christ he asks a question of enduring significance, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ This is echoed in a similar story in Matthew’s Gospel [ch 19], where the question is asked by the rich young man. We note here that both these questioners are unnamed, because, in a very real sense, in them we recognize every person who has asked this question.
In answering the lawyer, Jesus points him back to the Scriptures, to what God has already revealed. The man gives a good response: he is to love both God and neighbour.
It is interesting that it is the second of these two commandments that arouses the curiosity of the lawyer, ‘Who is my neighbour?’, he asks.
Were this exchange to be happening today, it seems to me that it would be the first of these commandments that would arouse the curiosity of the lawyer: Why must I love God? Why can I not simply show love to my neighbour? In the face of seemingly senseless pain and suffering, modern man demands that God justify himself before us, rather than the other way around.
To answer this, we turn to that similar story mentioned above, in Mt 19. In his answer to the rich young man, Jesus tells him to “go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor… and then come, follow me.” The love of neighbour he requires is not superficial, it is not simply the gift of excess money to those who are less fortunate. It is a love that is animated by the love of God, exemplified in the total self-giving of Christ on the cross.
The command to love our neighbour might seem hard to argue with. What Jesus is proposing, however, is far more radical than a mere secular philanthropy. It asks of us a real love. A love that is total. A love that requires complete self-sacrifice.
Words of Wisdom
As he calls the young man to follow him along the way of perfection, Jesus asks him to be perfect in the command of love, in “his” commandment: to become part of the unfolding of his complete giving, to imitate and rekindle the very love of the “Good” Teacher, the one who loved “to the end”. This is what Jesus asks of everyone who wishes to follow him: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24).
St Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 20