Sebastian Kappen is a Jesuit from Kerala. I was reading his book ‘Jesus Today’ (published in 1985) which contains a collection of inspiring articles. It is worthwhile for any person who likes (admires/loves) Jesus to read through some of those articles, if not all.
He gives a beautiful interpretation of the story of the rich young man from the Bible.
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?”Jesus answered. “No one is good — except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
I give a summary of his interpretations in my own words.
- Jesus was at the beginning of a journey. In the gospel of Mark, it is not any journey, but the starting of the final journey to the passion. And that explains the importance of the message of the passage too.
- The question of the young man is a very practical one (not a theoretical/otherworldly). What should I do? This is an attitude many of us would appreciate and probably Jesus too.
- Jesus tells him to follow the commandments, and interestingly he never includes any laws or commandments connected to rituals, but only the ones which are connected to human relationships.
- The reply of the young man is very very challenging and courageous. And I don’t know whether Jesus was surprised by it, but he probably thought of giving a deeper layer of meaning to his understanding of the commandments.
- Jesus asked him to sell everything and give it to the poor. Kappen would say, this is not an act of charity, but an act of justice. This is a very powerful observation and it pinches me so much. He might have created his wealth in a just-manner within a system. Now Jesus is giving a radical challenge to him because the system from which he made the money was not just enough and that is the challenge. The handing-over of the money is not an act of charity, but an act of justice.
- He says to follow him after that, which is a radical following, which even includes countering the injustices of the system
What it could mean for us in the present context? Especially with the suffering of innumerable humans? It is an invitation for justice. What does it mean?
- Sharing or giving of food/resources is not our charity to the poor, but an act of justice — a minor reparation (very very minor) for the sins of the system which made them poor.
- And a greater reparation should happen in the form of our fight against these systems, which creates inequalities in all forms and to create systems that are inclusive and egalitarian.
- All our fights against injustice in the systems (activist-mode) and all our participatory models (empowerment-mode) are definitely responses to Jesus’ invitation to sell everything and follow me.