We all have heard the saying, "Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die." Many who are Christian have grown up hearing children's sermons or Sunday school lessons that describe the Christian life as a journey to heaven. It's as if heaven is some place "out there," out of our reach or experience, but if we live good lives and are not bad boys and girls, when we die we will go to heaven. The man in the scripture from Mark 10 is not talking about going to heaven. He's interested in how to experience eternal life in the here-and-now.
Perhaps in exploring his profound question, we can lay to rest the notion that heaven or eternal life, whichever expression we choose, is a "place" or something outside and unreachable through human experience. We are all conditioned by our environment. What have we kept since we were little children? As adults, we bring our histories, circumstances, and experiences with us. Our outlook on life is tied to this conditioning. Parents, teachers, friends, neighbours, work associates, and enemies have all contributed to who we are, what we think, and how we live.
The man in Mark's story (Mark 10:17-31) was also conditioned by such influences. He never murdered anyone, didn't run around on his wife, never stole anything from anybody, never told a lie, had not defrauded anyone, and had honoured his parents. This man could be described as the preeminent community example of integrity. But there was one thing in his life that had taken complete hold of him—his possessions.
I am persuaded that Jesus never talked about "going to heaven." He talked about "experiencing heaven." As he said, "The kingdom of heaven is among [or within] you." He never talked about us being good in this life, so we can get to heaven; he talked about heaven in this life. What the man in the story needs to do is what we all need to do— discern and discover how to allow ourselves to be claimed by the love of God. In doing so, we embark on a lifetime journey (now and eternal) of experiencing the goodness of God, the same goodness that claimed Jesus.
We do know that this man had many possessions and in another of the Gospel’s Luke describes him as a ruler which may be significant. As a ruler, he would know what it was to have power over peoples' lives. Who better than this man to understand the power of possessions over one's own life? I believe this man leads us all to Jesus. We all have something that possesses, or rules, and interferes with us living life on God's terms. The man's question is our question: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Let's pause and consider why he used the word inherit.
The word inherit in the text is klironómisi in Greek. One of its shades of meaning is "to share in." The man is essentially asking, "What must I do to share in God's blessings?" Jesus tells him that he needs to come to grips with the one thing that keeps him from sharing life on God's terms, namely, his wealth. It is clear from the man's response that he has much work to do. He realises it will be nearly impossible for him to relinquish what he holds dear. It is his barrier to sharing in the blessings of God.
What must you and I do to share in the promise of God's blessings? What areas of our lives need some work so that we may share in God's life, life that is eternal? Based on Jesus' encounter with the man, God understands that we all have something in our lives that rules us. It is no accident that the writer notes Jesus' encounter is based on his compassion toward the man.
We Christians follow the teachings of the one who completely understands how difficult—but not impossible—it is to rule over those things that would dominate us or rule over us. The person of Jesus shows us how to live such a life. So, what are our "rulers"? What gets in our way of being followers of Jesus' example? What sends us away shocked and grieving because we think we cannot live without them? Is it wealth, our phone, our position or even a prized possession? Each of us must answer this question for ourselves.