The rich young man in today’s Gospel wants to know what we all want to know—how to live in this life so that we might live forever in the world to come. He seeks what today’s Psalm calls “wisdom of heart
The young man started off with a question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he wanted Jesus to tell him how to secure the benefits of God’s most fundamental values – and to find the key to a meaningful, contented, and fulfilling life. He learns that the wisdom he seeks is not a program of works to be performed or behaviours to be avoided. As Jesus tells him, observing the commandments is essential to walking the path of salvation—but it can only get us so far. The Wisdom of God is not precepts, but a person—Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Wisdom whose Spirit was granted to Solomon in today’s First Reading.
As we consider our Lord’s encounter with the young man we can imagine Jesus’ insight into his heart and soul. He had followed the specific, outward regulations that were spelled out in the Bible – but Jesus perceived that something still blocked him from total obedience to God – his many possessions. Material belongings stood in the way of his following Christ, because, having heard Jesus’ opinion that he needed to give them up, he went away stunned and defeated. He could not meet the ultimate measure of obedience to God. His love of possessions blocked him from totally loving God and following Christ.
Many scholars remind us that the crisis for the man with many possessions was not how much he owned, but that the property owned him, blocking his way to unity with God.
Thinking about such views is a necessary beginning for each of us to examine in our own lives the relevance of today’s Gospel story. What does Jesus say to you and to me – about the one thing more that we lack? What do we need to give up, to rid ourselves of, to put behind us, that would allow us completely to follow Christ? What can blind us and deafen us from connecting with God? What is the radical reorientation of our lives that will lead us to follow Christ? What is it that stands in the way of our becoming what God intends us to be?
It is almost certainly selfishness of one sort or another – because putting ourselves first puts God second or third. What is it that we need to give up to gain what is much more valuable? Is it greed or prejudice – ignorance or pride – anger or the need to control others, the inability to acknowledge our sins of hurting others or the “things we have left undone” or something else?
All, of these are a love of possessions that stand in our way of connecting with the eternal life that we can find only in God. We live in a culture of materialism in which we measure too much in monetary terms. We are inundated day after day, hour after hour, by advertising that insists that if we buy one thing or another that we will be happier and better off. The push for more and more material possessions insinuates itself into our lives constantly.
Finally, it seems ironic that the man with many possessions asked about “inheriting” eternal life. The truth is, he had already inherited it – as a child of God. The God-within-him existed as a part of the created order – because he, like each of us, was created in the image and likeness of God. He had inherited God’s spirit already – he just didn’t know it. Jesus tried to open him to understanding that reality – to instruct him how to break through what blocked him from recognizing and utilizing the very spirit of God that he only had to put before all else in his life.
The gospel does not tell us where the young man’s life took him, but I have hope that eventually he came around to the recognition that it is not about the ability to live the commandments by one’s own effort but rather about receiving the love and friendship of God into one’s heart. I have hope because the gospel says that Jesus loved the young man and that love remained even as the young man went away sad in the moment. I have hope that the young man learned that for God “all things are possible”.
The same hope remains for us. Yes, we all too often, have divided hearts but Christ looks on us with love, Christ continually invites us into friendship and for God “all things are possible”.