“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The young
man speaks for all of us.
At the end of John’s Gospel we read: “Were every one
of the things Jesus did written, I suppose the world itself would
not contain the books that would be written”, and
“. . . these are written that . . . you may have life . .
It is important to realize that all three of the synoptic Gospels
contain this story of the exchange between Jesus and the rich young
man. I think we can safely conclude that Matthew, Mark, and Luke
all thought it was important for the life of their communities to
hear and ponder its message.
Jesus’ response to the young man’s question is revealing.
He starts with a variant listing of the last seven commandments
– those governing our relations with one another. He saves
the first three commandments till last – those dealing with
our relationship to God. Interestingly, He sums them up by saying,
in effect: “Get rid of your riches and follow Me. You cannot
give God His due if you are consumed with concern for money and
This exchange is of one piece with the many other sayings of Jesus
on wealth – “You cannot serve God and money”;
“It is easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s
eye than for a rich person to enter the kingdom”. Over the
centuries we have delegated these counsels to persons in religion,
those who take a vow of poverty. For the rest of us, well, they
are just not practical. Great ideals, certainly, but not very realistic.
But that is a cop-out. We are to be disciples of Jesus, all of us,
not just a special few. I cannot so easily duck what Jesus says.
It is mind boggling, actually, to realize that our entire duty to
God can be summed by “Sell what you have; give to the poor;
follow Me”. What this means will vary from person to person.
God may give back our possessions and say “Here, manage this
for Me. Use it to take care of my little ones”. We would perhaps
prefer religion to consist of ritual observances, or rules and regulations.
Then we would know whether or not we have discharged our duty. But
open-ended self-giving? Too amorphous. Too threatening.
But it could not be otherwise. The God Jesus reveals is precisely
self-giving, personified. Made in God’s image, as we are,
that is what Jesus shows us it means to be fully human. Imitating
God is the way we discharge our duty to Him. Nothing else can substitute.
Anything else is idolatry.*
*See March 2nd reflection.