My grade 6 teacher had a great impact on my life because he saw potential in me and he did everything he could to encourage me to live up to it. He did the same for every one of the students in our class, and we have always loved him for that.
Jesus also had a gift for seeing the potential in people, and for encouraging them to live up to that potential. In the gospel account we have heard today, a man ran up to him, knelt before him and asked him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life
(Mk 10:17). Jesus immediately welcomed his enthusiasm and saw great potential in him. He encouraged him by recalling the Commandments, the lessons that the young man – and all Jews – had learned from their early childhood (cf Mk 10:19) and the young man was eager to point out: I have kept all these from my youth
(Mk 10:20). Like the good teacher that he was, Jesus looked at him, loved him, and then challenged him further: you lack one thing; go, sell what you have and give the money to the poor
(Mk 10:21). We are told that the man was saddened by this advice, and that he walked away, but we do not know whether he ever came back, or whether that question continued to challenge him long after that encounter.
This is the way it goes whenever we encounter Jesus, whenever we express a desire to follow him: he welcomes our enthusiasm, he encourages us and then he challenges us to grow.
On many occasions, Jesus used this approach with his disciples too. After the enthusiastic young man had left them, Jesus turned to his disciples and challenged them with his observation: How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!
(Mk 10:23). Up to this point, the disciples had understood that Jesus was preparing them for a new kingdom, but their concept of this kingdom was defined in terms of human understandings. Then, as if in answer to their questioning glances, he used a very intriguing comparison. He said: It is easier for a camel to go though the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God
(Mk 10:25). This was Jesus’ way of saying to them and to us that entering into the kingdom of God is a free gift that is offered by God, for whom all things are possible
Even today, Jesus offers us the gift of understanding, which is spoken of in the Book of Wisdom (cf Wis 7:7). Understanding is one of the gifts that is given at Confirmation: an ability to comprehend the world around us not in terms of earthly logic but by the light of heavenly guidance. It is this spiritual gift that allows us to recognize the face of Jesus in the poor, the sick, the orphan, the widow, the elderly, the weak, the refugee, in anyone who is in need of help ... and it is this gift of understanding that allows us to look beyond the limits of external power, prestige and beauty to discover the true potential that lies within every person.
This week, let us pray for the gift of divine understanding, and let us ask for the grace of being able to perceive the potential in those we meet, so that when our turn comes to render an account for the way we have lived our lives, we can honestly say that we sought out the face of Jesus in those we encountered.