The rich young man had being doing a lot of things to live a proper moral life, according to Jewish teaching. You might say that he had come to the entry level to eternal life and wanted to know what the next step would be. He was confident that he was observing all of the commandments but sensed that there was something more – and there was.
Jesus let him know that perfection required an all-out commitment, not just doing certain good deeds or observing rules and regulations. It required living the spirit of the law, not just the letter.
Note that Jesus’ reaction was not one of condemnation but, rather, a simple, quiet observation about the problem of being too attached to earthly things.
The rich young man wasn’t ready for the total commitment that Jesus demanded and turned away from Jesus. It wasn’t that his wealth was the problem. It was his total attachment to that wealth that prevented him from progressing toward eternal life. You might say his spirit was willing but his flesh was weak.
None of us may be rich or attached to wealth but that doesn’t let us off the hook. We need to consider what other attachments we have that are keeping us from advancing toward eternal life. The commandments, the laws of the Church, are only the introduction to the Christian way of life not the total package. Our Christian way of life is not just following the commandments, it is following Jesus Christ himself.
What interferes with that? Right now we are in the Dormition fast. How are you observing it? Is it too much trouble? Does it get in the way of your comfortable life to observe some aspect of the fast?
What about time for prayer? Is it an afterthought in your life? Do you stick it into a busy day filled with lots of things you have to do or do you put prayer ahead of all of the other tasks of life?
I’ve already spoken many times about doing a little extra for the Lord’s Day such as coming to church early and leaving late, or coming for vespers or matins in addition to the Liturgy. Is it too inconvenient? Do you not want to spend the extra time in communal worship?
What is your attitude to the poor and less fortunate? Do you have an understanding that God’s blessings to you are meant to be shared with others? Do you have a true spirit of generosity? How about our ongoing food drive?
The Lord calls us not just to do more but to be more. He calls us to be more of whom he has created us to be. He always blesses us with his loving care, whether we deserve it or not; whether we are good, not so good or downright bad.
In his response to the rich young man Jesus not only quotes a few of the commandments but he slips in the one that he uniquely expressed, “You shall love you neighbor as yourself.” This would be the stumbling block for the young man. I can imagine people in the crowd saying that Jesus was being unreasonable. Here was the fine upstanding citizen and Jesus was turning him away with impossible demands. And yet, there are people today who think that the demands for an increasing relationship with Jesus Christ are unreasonable and content themselves with staying at the entry level of Christian life.
There was a fine talk given at this month’s First Friday Forum which tied in perfectly with what I was planning to preach to you today. It was about the principle of gradualness. It means that, because none of us is perfect, we have to grow little by little toward the ideal the Church sets forth for us in her teachings and laws. Priests should present the ideal expressed in those teachings but not condemn a person who has not reached the ideal. Instead priests should assist the person in the spiritual journey toward the ideal – toward perfection.
I would like to think that that was the case with the rich young man. Selling all of his possessions was just too much for him at that particular moment. However, as he continued his careful observance of Jewish faith, I hope he was able gradually to come to the point at which he did sell all and give to the poor – then follow Jesus.
You see, you don’t have to be rich to turn away sad – to turn away from Jesus and the fullness of life. Are there some things to which God is calling you but you just can’t do it right now? Pray, pray, pray that you will be able to grow in your relationship to God so that you can respond with the all-out commitment he asks of you.
In the August 4 reflection in the devotional book, “Magnificat”, there is the story about a woman named Elisabeth Leseur, a French mystic. She wrote spiritual diaries while married to a doctor who scorned her devotion to Christ. Felix, her husband, lost his Catholic faith shortly before their wedding and became a publicly vocal atheist. He often made anti-Catholic jibes to their friends. She remained faithful to her prayers – especially for Felix. She carried out works of mercy and a wide-ranging correspondence. When she was bedridden with cancer she offered up her sufferings for the conversion of Felix’s soul. Shortly after her death, he found a letter she had written to him praying that he would turn to Christ.
Felix was ordained a Dominican priest 10 years after Elisabeth’s death and spent much of his last 27 years promulgating the writings and advancing the cause for beatification of his wife, who has been declared a “Servant of God.” Felix had gradually come full circle back to the practice of the Catholic faith in which he had been baptized and which he had rejected.
All of us should gradually come to an ever deepening faith and commitment to Jesus Christ and our Catholic faith. It’s what he asks of us, just as he asked the rich young man.