Why did the young man in today’s Gospel account come to Jesus? Many people in his position would have been more than happy with their lot in life. Was it that he was still questioning? Was it that his heart had not yet been hardened by riches? We don’t know about him, but we do know that people can become so self-satisfied that they no longer hear the call of a better life.
The man asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He realized that it was deeds that mattered. And he found himself standing on firm ground. “I’ve kept all the commandments!”
Undoubtedly he was a good living, respectable young man, the kind of son any parent would be very proud of. A model? Well, up to a point. When we examine his claims to greatness they are less than convincing. Yes, he kept the commandments but was this enough? There is a difference between keeping the commandments and living the commandments.
Jesus looked at him with love and saw great potential in him. Then he offered him a new vision of goodness. “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
Jesus wanted to free him from his addiction to possessions, and to show him the path of sharing and compassion. Unfortunately the young man found the ideal too difficult and went away sad.
Why was he sad? Because the challenge of Jesus was too high of a price to pay. So he returned to his old way of life, his own comforts and securities.
It is difficult for us to give away our money because it means depriving ourselves of the resources on which we have come to rely for status, security, and enjoyment of life. But that is precisely why disciples of Jesus must give up wealth. The essence of Christian faith is to put absolute trust in God, and to rely on God’s providential care as the source of security and well-being.
Jesus isn’t telling us we must be destitute. He is telling us that we need to look at what our “needs” are, versus what our “wants” are. They are two entirely different things.
This past summer I read a wonderful book by Chris Stepien, Dying to be Happy: Discovering the Truth about Life.” It is indeed very powerful and thought provoking, a good reflection on what Jesus demands of us as his disciples. It can make one uncomfortable, but then the Gospel is meant to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable! If you would like a copy to read, I have some available in my office.
— Fr. Dennis, October 15, 2018