Life of the age to come

This week we have commemorated the tenth anniversary of the tragic Bali bombings which commentators at the time and since have called Australia’s experience of 11 September 2001. Certainly those events that ushered in the so-called ‘age of terror’ have changed the way that we travel and our sense of security. In the universal church, we have also begun the Year of Faith, which Pope Benedict called to commemorate a much more joyous occasion – the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. This event had such a huge impact on the catholic world, that many people divide more contemporary church history around it – so you get events that were before the council, and then life / liturgy / theology / music / church after the council.

At the time of Jesus, all Jewish people would have thought about time in a similarly epic way. There were two time periods: life in the present age [in Hebrew: Ha-olam hazeh] and life in the ‘Age to Come’ [in Hebrew: Ha-olam ha-ba]. In the present age people suffered and experienced lots of things – good and bad. In the age to come, which was spoken about by the prophets as the Day of the Lord, then God would act to restore everything and make all things the way that God intended them to be. In the age to come, the will of God would finally be done (as we pray in the Lord’s prayer: Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven).

When a certain man runs up to Jesus (which hints at the fact he is young; older people would not have been so undignified) and kneels down before him, this is his question: Good Teacher/Master, what must I do to inherit the life of the age to come? When Jesus questions him, he first questions why he calls him good when he is not in a relationship that recognises his true goodness – namely his relationship with God the Father. Then he states what is at one level the bleeding obvious – with a litany of six commandments. He begins with the fifth commandment (using the numbering of the Greek translation of scripture, which the early church adopted) which Jesus would have known as the sixth commandment (using the Hebrew numbering, which split the commandments into four concerning our relation with God and six for relations with others) – you shall not kill, going through to the eighth (or ninth) commandment before adding a commandment not found in Exodus 20 / Deut 5 – ‘do not defraud’ – and then finishing with the fourth (or fifth) commandment – ‘honour your parents’. The commandment that Jesus does not list is the last commandment – do not covet. All the other commandments have clear evidence that something has happened: if you kill, there is a dead body; if you commit adultery, there is a dead relationship; if you steal, there is something missing; if you bear false witness, then someone’s reputation is shattered. But I cannot tell if you are coveting anything right now. Perhaps all you are coveting is that the homily will be short? So why does Jesus do this?

Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (11’19”)
Sunday 28B. Mark 10:17-24.

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