The Greek for Mark 10:21 is interesting (the transliteration being something like this: o ho ihsous iesous embleyas emblepsas auto hgaphsen Agapesen). This is the only place I can find in the Synoptic Gospels where ‘agapan’ (to love) is used to describe the feelings of Christ. Agape is the highest form of love, it is the love God gives to his children – as St John tells us in 1 John 4:10-11, where he uses the word to describe God’s pre-esisting love for us. So, when we are told that Jesus looked at the rich young man after his confession of faithfulness to the law and ‘loved him’, we are being told something very important. Jesus looked on him and found him worthy of the highest form of love. Yet it is this same love which God offers to us all. God has already killed the fatted calf for us, his arms are outstretched – and yet all depends on our response.
The rich young man has kept all the precepts of the law from his earliest youth and has lived a good life, so much so that the Lord of Creation looks on him with love. But the young man lacks something – the willingness to respond unselfishly to that unselfish love. In God’s love there is no slavery – that is what we are when we are under the rule of our own sinful passions and attachments. This young man has only one thing barring him from his reward – but it is more important to him that following Jesus. He is enslaved to his wealth, it is chain upon him. God loved him, God loves us, he responded by preferring his wealth – how do we respond? What is it we put in the way of our response to God’s love? Our human notions of what is required of us can be an obstacle, just as the ruch young man’s wealth was for him.
He knew every letter of the law and he had lived by the law and done so in a way which made Christ himself love him with the highest form of love. There he was, in the presence of the Lord himself, and yet, for all his attachment to the law, he could not perceive its spirit or receive it; his heart was closed to the love Jesus offered him; he preferred the things of this world. He knew – which is why he asked the question – that something was lacking, but once he was told what it was, he could not go that extra step. In his Journal of a Soul, St Pope John XXIII pondered what that man might have thought many years later when he had come to a greater wisdom, imagning that he had come to realise that without God riches were nothing, for God created everything, and even riches had a purpose in God’s eyes, one which he, as a young man, had missed. A sadder, but a wiser man, on the morrow, perhaps, with St John XXIII reminding us that redemption – and God’s love – is not a once-only offering.
We do not, of course, know, what happened to that rich young man, and we can hope that he did, indeed, come to a repentance that allowed him to enter into the reward Jesus promises to all who will follow him. We can, however, examine our hearts and wonder what it is which we hold in higher esteem than the love of God?