Ps 90 R/. Fill us with your love. O Lord, that we may rejoice and be glad.
Today’s Gospel passage ties well to our Gospel from a couple weeks ago, about cutting off that which leads us to sin, but it takes a slightly different approach. It’s a simple and short story, a very human story, but it’s also very profound and moving.
For me, it’s one of the sad moments in the Gospels. Here’s a young man, who by all accounts was a good man: he sought to please God, followed well the Commandments and sought to do good, and earnestly desired eternal life. He wouldn’t have asked the question if he weren’t genuinely interested in holiness. And he demonstrates this thirst for holiness by asking what more he could do, what he still lacked. He knew that even though he was living a good life, he wasn’t yet holy.
And his question also tells us that he knew he was capable of doing more. He did indeed thirst for holiness, for righteousness, for spiritual perfection. That’s why I think we can so easily identify ourselves with him. And Jesus saw this willingness in him, that’s why He loved him (v. 21), and offered him what his heart desired.
The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Mt 26:41). How it must have saddened Jesus that the young man turned away. If only he’d known that God wouldn’t ask more than we can handle; that He would’ve been there to help him; that He would’ve fulfilled his every desire a hundredfold and that he would indeed inherit eternal life. If only the young man would’ve stayed a few minutes longer, he could’ve heard about the riches he would’ve received for his sacrifice of love. Who knows, maybe he would’ve been an Apostle.
But instead, he only heard that he’d have to give up his material wealth, that treasure which moth and rust consume (cf. Mt 6:19). He saw the pearl in the field, but didn’t see its value; the one he held in his pocket seemed bigger to him. How it must have saddened Jesus that the young man turned away.
Many have accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow Him, to become His disciples; but many, because of their selfishness and materialism, have also gone away grieving (v. 22). And what grief it must be! Because the rich young man’s heart was divided: he desired eternal life, but his desire for his riches was stronger. His heart was indeed with his treasure (cf. Lk 12:34). How many times do we do the same? But only in God do we find peace, joy, and life.
All of us experience the struggle of this division in our lives. The life discipleship, the life of following Christ, is a life of self-sacrifice, a life of self-giving, a life given in love. (That’s why we often compare it to Marriage.)
As disciples, we’re all called to let go of our material possessions, of our earthly desires, so as to be free to follow Christ and seek holiness. It’s not that riches are bad in themselves; it’s our attachment to them that’s sinful, because such attachments are egocentric: they’re an obstacle to love; an obstacle to following Christ.
But all of us are called to be ready to sacrifice all things for the sake Christ, for the sake of eternal life. Whether Jesus asks this of us or not is a whole other question, but we need to be ready and willing to do so if He does. This is part of what is means to take up our cross (cf. Lk 9:23). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle (no. 2015). This is a normal part of our life in Christ. There should be nothing more important to us than our salvation, because in the end, it’s either eternal life or eternal damnation — there’s no other option.
So let’s place ourselves in the shoes of the rich young man: What is God asking of me? Where is He asking me to go in my spiritual life? What’s my next step toward holiness? Is there anything holding me back? Do I have attachments I need to let go of in order to follow Christ more closely?
These are questions need to be constantly in our hearts and minds, because they help us discern God’s will, and they help purify our desires. And then we need to pray more, asking God to help us embrace this invitation, to help us say ‘yes’ to Jesus Christ, and to boldly follow Him, letting go of anything that keeps us away from Him. And so personal prayer and the Sacraments — especially Confession and the Eucharist — are key tools in our spiritual life.
Jesus gave Himself to us completely and without reservation, and He asks us to give ourselves to Him in return, completely and without reservation. This is the mutual exchange of love, the divine Marriage to which He calls us, and He won’t settle for less!
The call of the rich young man was an invitation to be united to the Saviour, to be conformed more perfectly to the image and likeness of Christ. Jesus makes that same invitation to each one of us: may we not turn away from it like the rich young man, but instead trust in God, and not let anything distract us from eternal life.
And since October is the month of the Rosary, may we entrust ourselves to our Blessed Mother, asking her to guide us along this path to eternal life; to say ‘yes’ to Jesus with our whole heart, with our whole life Amen.