“You will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:22).
Ezek 24:15-23; Matt 19:16-22
Today’s Gospel about the rich young man asking how to gain eternal life is like other stories in the Gospels in which scribes try to test Jesus’ knowledge of the Scriptures. In those encounters, the intent is often hostile, and the question is about the first commandment. In this story from Matthew, the question is about eternal life and the man seems sincere in his desire to go beyond the commandments he is already keeping, but feels he is still lacking something.
What is interesting is how Jesus takes each conversation to a deeper level. He traps those who are trying to trap him by going to the heart of the commandments, which is about loving God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength. He enthralls his questioners in their own love for the Law, then tells them that they are not far from the Kingdom. In today’s story, Jesus challenges the young man to let go of both his emphasis on legal perfection and the many possessions that are holding him back from seeking God whole-heartedly by following him.
In Mark’s version (10, 17-31), Jesus looks at the young man with love. This is the same look Jesus focuses on his disciples when calling them. Eternal life is about more than keeping the commandments, even perfectly. It does not require that you be perfect, only willing to step beyond all self-assurance to entrust your life to Jesus.
This passage survives as one of the saddest stories in the Gospels because the rich young man was not ready to take that step. He began with self-assurance, eager to display his readiness of go deeper, but he may have wished he had never asked the question or met Jesus. He walks away sad, and we feel his sadness. We also feel his risk of letting go of the illusion of security his wealth and virtue had provided. We feel his confusion that keeping the law was somehow not enough. He was on the threshold of the Kingdom of God but unable make the leap from law to love. He was rich and virtuous, but he was not ready for love, the ultimate good, the one thing necessary and the essence of eternal life.
Every Gospel is in a sense an encounter with Jesus, God’s Word. If we seek him, we should be ready to be captured by the look of love and the invitation to take the next step. The cost of conversion is to leave behind what is holding us back from a closer relationship with God. But the risk cannot compare to the freedom to travel light in the company of Jesus and his disciples, who are already setting out today to be Good News to the world, healing and joy to everyone they meet.