‘Disciple who never was’ still offers lesson on Jesus’ invitation to all of us

By Tim Irwin

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Oct. 14

Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 90:12-13,14-15,16-17; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30

This Sunday’s Gospel presents a challenge that seems impossible to follow while acquainting us with the disciple who never was. The story begins just as Jesus and his disciples have begun the journey to Jerusalem that will culminate in His passion, death, and resurrection.

A man, who has lived his life obeying the commandments, asks Jesus what else he might do to be closer to God. Jesus looks lovingly at him says, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Saddened, the man went away.

In the preceding chapters of the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus had rewarded the faith of a Syrophoenician woman, cured a blind man and a deaf man, multiplied the loaves, and transfigured among other things. Conspicuously absent in all of those stories is the request that anybody sell all that they own, give it to the poor, and follow Jesus. What makes this young man different? This young man isn’t just being called to discipleship; he is also being called to a vocation — a special relationship with God — and the challenge was just too much for him.

Today, we face a similar challenge. Everyone is called to a vocation — some to the clergy, some to the consecrated life, others to the single life, and still others to matrimony. When we are called, Jesus invites each of us to have a special relationship — the special relationship for which the Father has made us.

The young man loved God and wanted that special relationship with Him, but he just couldn’t get past the sacrifice. When that happens, everyone loses. Consider how the story of Christianity may have changed if the unnamed man had accepted Jesus’ invitation. Perhaps he might have authored a fifth gospel or joined St. Paul as a missionary.


What can we do to help each other accept the invitation from Christ? Here are three suggestions.

  • First, we can faithfully live our vocation and support others who are faithfully living their vocations. Being a true follower of Christ is a struggle and we need each other to persevere. Now in this time of scandal, supporting our priests should be a priority. The vast majority of our priests serve us with an unselfish dedication despite the many challenges that they face.
  • Second, we can also encourage those discerning their vocation. Grace always comes in the form of an invitation. We are free to decline as the unnamed man did in the Gospel. Those discerning need our prayers and support so that they might answer well the invitation from God.
  • Third, we can also witness to the truth of this week’s Gospel by reducing our own attachment to material goods. It’s not what we own or don’t own. Rather, it’s the preoccupation with material goods — the vice of avarice — that impedes our love for God and others. The Church has never condemned people for being rich and many prosperous Catholics have used their wealth to support their parish and other Catholic ministries that preserve and promote the Holy Faith. Let their example guide us.

It’s likely not coincidental that this story appears in Mark just as Jesus has embarked on the road to his passion, death, and resurrection. Jesus will pray that his very special calling does not lead to the Holy Cross, but upon realizing that it does, he commits to the Father’s will with unflinching dedication. Such is the dedication we all need to find within ourselves and encourage within others because nobody is called to be the disciple who never was.

Tim Irwin teaches theology and philosophy at Notre Dame High School in Peoria. He is a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton.


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