The rich man who approaches Jesus has a better understanding of the mission of Jesus than do most of his contemporaries. He asks: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
It is the rest of the dialogue that offers a direct challenge to us. In calling Jesus “Good teacher,” this man acknowledges what is still hidden from the disciples – Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus attempts to deflect this profession of faith by pointing to the father, but we cannot simply overlook the insight that this man had. In his opening question to Jesus he has identified Jesus as both Son of God as the source of eternal life.
Jesus’ response is clear: follow the Commandments. This is not always easy. But it is only the first step. When we take on the mind of Christ, we come to learn that following the Commandments is not enough. The man who came to Jesus knew it, and we know it as we move through life – there is more. There is always more.
Jesus tells him to sell all he has and distribute it to the poor. Because he was rich, he was unable to do so and walked away from Jesus. Jesus challenged the rich man to sell his riches not because he was rich, but because he was attached to being rich. If he gave away all he had to the poor he could not imagine who he would be.
However, Jesus already told him what he would be: his disciple. However he did not want to hear that, he wanted to be attached to his wealth and still be a disciple of Jesus. That is not possible.
The challenge for us is to let go of our attachments. I could not say that because I am not rich that this Gospel passage does not apply to me. I have to challenge myself – as do we all – to set aside that attachment that distracts me from true discipleship. It might not be wealth, and indeed for most of us it is probably not money. But it is always something. Some aspect of our identity becomes a barrier between ourselves and our relationship with the Lord. It could be a specific possession, a position of influence, even another person. Whatever it is, we have to let it go as an attachment, and focus instead on the path to eternal life.
Like the rich man, many of us cannot make that final abandonment into the loving mercy of God. For all of his learning, insight and faithfulness in observance of the Commandments, this rich man could not hand himself over to the demands of the Gospel.
At any point in our journey in faith we run the risk of becoming like this rich man, choosing to walk away from Jesus and forfeit eternal life. Strengthened by our faithful observance of the Commandment, and detached from the things and ways of the world, we abandon ourselves, and are lead to salvation. We must first recognize that it is God and God alone who leads us to life eternal. The things, the ways, and the people in the world can be more of a stumbling block than a guide.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.