Daily Reflection
August 19th, 2002
Andy Alexander, S.J.
University Ministry and the Collaborative Ministry Office
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

Ezekiel 24:15-24
Deuteronomy 32:18-19, 20, 21
Matthew 19:16-22

A young man approached Jesus and said,  "Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?" ...

When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Isn't this story startling?  A young man comes to Jesus desiring eternal life.  He's a good guy.  He obeys the commandments.  He loves his neighbor as he loves himself.  But, he ends up walking away sad because he couldn't follow Jesus.  His possession stood between him and Jesus.  They were too great, at least too important.  They possessed him.  He couldn't let go of them, because of the hold they had on him.  He found out that though he desired eternal life, and a fidelity to God that got him there, he desired his possessions more.  He found his heart's deepest desire.  As Jesus said, we find where our heart is by locating our treasure.

This stunning story shows me so clearly the power of things I call "mine."  I don't really sense their incredible power over me until I hear the invitation of Jesus to "let go."  Then, I know how un-free I am.  I can tell these things have so bound themselves to the core of my self-identity that to be without them feels like a "part of me" is dying.  Surrendering what I "have and possess" is surrendering something of myself.

The greatest possession, which we hold most dearly, is what others think of us.  It's the possession that almost all the other things that possess us serve.  As a test, I suspect that if we would think of five things we'd have a hard time doing without, most of them would have something to do with our "image."  Most likely the connection is unconscious.  But when we examine our conscience - which is really bringing to awareness what our deepest motivations and desires are - we will often discover that the things we are least free about have to do with our self-image and how we want others to see us. 

Part of this has to do with how universally it is assumed that people who have a lot (successes, degrees, square footage, jewelry, refined tastes, etc.) are more important, even more valuable. The assumption is that accomplishment is a sign of gifts and talent, hard work and enterprise.  This even goes so far that we think more attractive people are better people.  (I think it is true that no matter the issues or qualifications, the taller of two political candidates will win the election most of the time.) Poor people are universally judged as not only lacking things, but as lacking strength, virtue, intelligence, value. 

So, when Jesus says, "Let go," it is quite understandable why we often go away sad.  Even when he says, "It'll be okay.  I'll fill you with a peace and a joy and a freedom nothing in this world can give you," we resist.  Perhaps we say "yes" at first, but a lot of the time we bargain our way around Jesus.  We "give up" some things to appear free, but down deep, when we examine our conscience, we are holding on for dear life to what we look like, to how others think of us, to things that give us small pleasures and small importance.  The first instance of a rejection, a slight or when someone else gets more attention than we do, we can feel how un-free we are. 

How is it possible to leave all that stuff behind so completely that the complete desire of our hearts is to follow Jesus, freely, heroically, with dying-to-self love?  In the rest of the story (tomorrow) Jesus says, "nothing is impossible with God."

Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you 
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend; 
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee,'and bend 
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new. 
I, like an usurpt towne, to'another due, 
Labour to'admit you, but Oh, to no end, 
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend, 
But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue. 
Yet dearely'I love you,'and would be loved faine, 
But am betroth'd unto your enemie: 
Divorce mee,'untie, or breake that knot againe; 
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I 
Except you'enthrall mee, never shall be free, 
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.
                          - John Donne
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