February 3, 2016
One of our recent Mass readings contained the parable of the Rich Young Man:
Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”
He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
The young man's reaction always struck a chord with me: it's so real and raw, and perhaps because I'm a young man, it was easy (and extremely challenging) to put myself in his shoes.
Contrast this response to that of the first disciples in Matthew 4:
As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.
What?! How can their responses be so different? It certainly wasn't Jesus' rhetoric that convinced them here; he didn't make much of a case for himself. The disciples were free to take or leave the offer, the same as anyone who has been called by Christ. But despite the lack of explanation, the enigmatic language ("fishers of men?"), and the radical nature of the invitation, these young men got up and left immediately to follow Jesus.
What was different here? I can't say for sure, but here are a few potential reasons for the different reactions:
- The lives of the fishermen were much more detached than that of the young rich man. The rich man probably felt that he couldn't just up and leave, especially with so many business or social affairs to attend to. Maybe he didn't see the need: he's already well-off now, why should he risk things by pulling up stakes and following an itinerant preacher? As fisherman, the apostles might not be so hesitant and attached to their lifestyle.
- Maybe the rich young man was closed-minded, and wouldn't really give credence to the words of a Nazarene (see John 1:46). After all, Jesus was relatively poor as a woodworker, and came from a small and (previously) unimportant town.
- This one is a little more out there, but maybe the apostles actually just looked in Jesus eyes and really gave him their attention. The rich young man might have been checking his proverbial phone, or thinking of other affairs while talking to Christ, whereas the disciples saw or heard something that changed them. They saw how Christ knew them in a way they'd never been known and realized they couldn't live without that. (I'm thinking of Fr. Solanus's keynote talk at a recent Frassati retreat here...)
- Perhaps it was a question of inner disposition or goals: the rich young man asks for eternal life, but maybe he wasn't interested in a relationship with Jesus. He confused the means (eternity) with the end (life with God, who is outside of time).
Hopefully one or more of these reasons has challenged or spoken to you. Is our goal stability and comfort, or a relationship with Christ? What are we willing to sacrifice to be with Him? How much of our attention do we give to those of a different social status or upbringing than our own? Do we give our full attention to those who ask it of us? What could we be missing by not fully engaging with the people we encounter?
And, perhaps most importantly, where is our treasure? Do we value Life with God above all else? Do we really trust Him when Jesus tells us that it's all worth it?
Pray this week for that strength and faith.
Praised be Jesus Christ.