The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 19:16-26
We are all of us familiar with the story of the rich young man in the gospels. He comes to Jesus with an excellent question, “Good Teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?” This is a question that each and every Christian should be asking as they rise to accept all the challenges of the coming day.
We note here that some including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims have used this passage to point to the misguided idea that Jesus is less than God. They say “See, even Jesus corrects the man who called Him good, because that goodness is reserved for God alone.” The problem with this theory is that it completely ignores the many, many other instances where Our Lord Jesus claims equality with God the Father. “He who has seen me, has seen the Father who sent me” (Jn 14:9). “Before Abraham was I AM” (Jn 8:5). “I and the Father are One” (Jn 10:30).
In fact the words of Jesus to this young man are meant to draw him in closer to the reality of the identity of Jesus Christ. What the Lord never says is “Don’t call me good, because I’m not good and I’m not God.” He says “Why do you call me good?” We should know why we call Jesus good, and we should also know the source of goodness itself. Goodness itself must have a starting point, a source of “ultimate goodness” if you will.
Now what we note is that the man did reasonably well in his keeping of the commandments. By any measure of his time, he was doing well. But the Lord raised the bar for this man because Our Lord is the great healer of souls. As a skillful doctor he went straight to the problem to save this man. He wasn’t trying to hurt him, He loved him and showed great mercy on him by giving him the challenging truth. First the Lord said to him “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” It is an interesting saying. “If you would enter life.” I wonder how many of us look at obedience to the commandments of God as our entrance into life. We see many problems in the society around us, in the schools, in the families. Why? Because people and governments stubbornly refuse to enter into the commandments of God and by refusing to enter into His commandments, they are refusing to enter into God Himself who IS life!
After the young man pointed to his keeping of the commandments, he still sensed that he was in fact lacking something. This is interesting because it reflects what St. Paul writes in Galatians. He says that the law is a tutor until the time of Christ. And so the young man pushed the Lord further and the Lord responded “If you want to be perfect, go sell all that you possess and give it to the poor and come follow me.” The young man was obedient to the tutor, but now he had the chance to graduate from the tutor to the Master himself.
The young man may be the only man who is given a direct invitation to become an apostle and yet turns it down. When we think of it we say “what a misguided young man…he lost everything because of his love of wealth!” What a tremendous opportunity he lost! Yet each and every one of us is the same as this young man. God wants us to enter into life by keeping the commandments. But that is not the whole goal. Christ challenges each of us to be perfect and to follow Him. We are to do this by giving up that thing that we love in our hearts. That is a painful proposition because the things that are in our hearts are deeply attached to us. If you know that something in your life is keeping you from loving and following Christ in a deep way, find a way to give it away immediately. Yes, it will hurt. Yes, it will require sacrifice. Yes, it will change your life.
The young man was given the chance that very few could ever dream of. But he went away sad because he had great possessions and those possessions were in fact a part of him. He loved them with his whole heart. The Lord knew this and gave him a way out. He gives each one of us a way out of the snares that possess us. That way is to simply give those things up and follow Him. We focus our heart where we focus our eyes. If the heart is free from distractions, the heart is also free to follow the Lord. When you are praying quietly it is possible that the Lord speaks quietly into your heart and tells you what you should give up and lay aside. What is it that the Lord wants you to remove from your life? And what concrete steps can you take today to follow Christ more fully?
For instance, perhaps the Lord wants you to give up a major distraction and time waster such as Facebook or cable TV. Perhaps the Lord wants you to read the Bible from cover to cover in one year. Perhaps the Lord wants you to serve in a soup kitchen. Perhaps the Lord would like you to serve as a missionary at home or abroad. Perhaps the Lord wants you to take up a daily rule of prayer. Perhaps the Lord wants you to assist in a new church ministry or activity. There are so many ways to follow the Lord more deeply. Each one requires some pain. Each one requires some sacrifice. Each one offers us much more than we could ever, ever imagine.
If we choose to follow Christ we are choosing to follow the King. If we choose to follow Christ with our heart, we find that the doors of Heaven are thrown open for us. If we choose to follow Christ, we find that our inner darkness is wiped away by the never ending Light. We all must give up some things to follow Him, but those who follow Him gain everything.
What can I do to make a radical change in my life? What can I do to fully dedicate myself to Christ? What must I do to be saved? These are questions that cannot be ignored in the life of a Christian. Blessed are those who pursue them and dedicate their lives to following the One who is Himself our salvation! Glory be to God Forever AMEN.