AUGUST 16. Ord Time B. Wk 20 Mon. Mt 19. 16-22
There was a man who came to Jesus and asked, ‘Master, what good deed must I do to possess eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is one alone who is good. But if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said, ‘Which?’ ‘These:’ Jesus replied ‘You must not kill. You must not commit adultery. You must not bring false witness. Honour your father and mother, and: you must love your neighbour as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these. What more do I need to do?’ Jesus said, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But when the young man heard these words, he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.
Today’s Gospel focusses very much on the heart; - on the desires and on what we see as important. The man who approached Jesus wanted to know what he needed to do in order to merit eternal life, and he was told to keep the commandments.
This was something he was already doing, so he was clearly a good person and able to say that “I have kept all these; - so what more do I need to do,” so Jesus introduced him to holiness and the way of perfection; - where one goes beyond the keeping of the commandments!
Holiness involves moving from the commandments, to the counsels, which are teachings also promoted and practiced by Jesus, but which are not obligatory, such as poverty of spirit, purity of heart, and obedience being common examples.
In responding to the young man’s inquiry Christ confined himself to poverty of spirit; - which was a reply he was not expecting; - “If you wish to be perfect; - go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor; - and you will have treasure in heaven; - then come, follow me!”
In putting this forward as the way to be “perfect” or “holy” Christ was indicating the need to free the heart of all its earthly desires; - in order to enable the person to give his heart and love solely to God; - an invitation that demands generous renunciation and sacrifice!
At the centre of this teaching is the issue of Love; - where Christ is asking the man to ponder what it is he really loves; - and his response was clear; - if not sub-conscious; - in that he clearly “loved” his material possessions, as we are told ‘he was a man of great wealth!’
This sub-conscious “love” is far more prevalent than we want to admit; - so we do not refer to it as love; - calling it instead our “desires,” or “wishes”. I am sure this young man did not see his desire for wealth as love”; - but Christ’s demand for moving beyond the commandments made it clear; - “and he walked away sad!”
And it is these sentiments, on walking away, that are the real tragedy of the story. This man had kept all the commandments, and he wanted to love God more; - so he was clearly a good person; - but the centrepiece of the lesson is he wanted to love God; - “and” - love his wealth and possessions!
And before we rush to judge or condemn him for the quality or sincerity of his “love” we need to pause and reflect on our own “desires” and “loves”; - as Christ is teaching us; - if we want to attain holiness, as this young man did; - then we cannot do so if, at the same time, our hearts are attached to our desires for the things of this world!
‘If any man has a mind to come my way let him deny himself take up his cross, and follow me’
Gospel Acclamation Mt5:3
Happy the poor in spirit:
the kingdom of heaven is theirs!