SMC 14th October 2018
“Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” asks the young man in the Gospel reading this morning. It’s a good question; one which we have all asked, because otherwise we wouldn’t be here. But like everything in the Holy Scriptures, there is more to it than meets the eye. If we read this story of the rich young man simply as a cautionary tale, we find a good lesson about wealth, but if we allow our minds to search for the deeper meanings, we will gain true Wisdom. This will only come to us, as the Book of Wisdom wisely says, if we pray, for “I prayed, and it was given me; I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.” Let us pray then that God would enlighten the eyes of our minds to understand the Holy Scriptures, that we might draw water from this well of salvation.
This young man, whom Jesus looked on with love, but who goes away saddened, shows to us first what we should be, but then what we must avoid, if we are to be saved.
S Mark tells us that the young man “ran” to Jesus, so eager was he to put his question to Him. Would that we had the same eagerness, brothers and sisters! Would that we would run to Jesus, make all haste to come to Him, forgetting all else, eager to ask for life from the Author of life. But how often are we not? How often we say to ourselves: ‘Tomorrow, I shall be better’ or ‘Soon, I shall try to live a better life’, or ‘once I’ve sorted this thing out, I’ll be better at praying every day, or better at coming to church, or better at loving my neighbour, or better at loving God’?
My brothers and sisters, what are we waiting for? In the depths of our hearts, the Lord is already calling us to convert, to turn to Him, to leave behind the old Adam, to leave behind our sins. Dare we delay? No: resolve today that you will answer the Lord’s call, not tomorrow, not next week, not when Advent comes, or next year, or Lent, or any other day but now, right now. Beware, lest the Day of the Lord come like a thief in the night and find us sleeping. Now is the time to wake from sleep, and follow Christ.
Have you failed in love to a brother? Resolve, right now, to make it up to them. Have you forgotten to say your prayers? Resolve, right now, to pray daily, to pray more, to pray better. Have you missed church on Sundays or Holy Days of Obligation without a good reason? Resolve, right now, that you will never do it again. Run to the Lord, run to Jesus.
The young man who ran to Jesus knelt down before Him. He had no pride in the presence of God, and nor must we. We cannot dare to promise any of these things – to reform our lives, to be better – except on our knees, humbly admitting that before God we are nothing, shadows and dust, because He is everything. Kneeling down before the Lord, we confess that we are sinners. And I don’t want to hear anyone tell me they have not sinned. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” says S John (1 John 1:18), but “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:19).
When was the last time we made our confession to a priest? If we are serious about salvation, brothers and sisters, we need to be serious about our sins. We need to learn to hate them, if we are going to leave them behind. We need to confess them, if we are to be absolved of them, and we need to be absolved of them, if we are to be saved.
From his knees, in the dust at Jesus’ feet, the young man asks, “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ reply seems strange: “why do you call me god? No one is good but God alone.” We know this, of course: we are on our knees, remember, because we know that there is no good in us save what God give sus power to do. This answer of Christ teaches us that it is only to God that we must go for the answer to this question, “what must I do…” We will not find answers in men. We will not find answers in the things of this world, money and possessions and food and drink. Only in God, Who in Christ has entered this fallen Creation, can we find true answers to the only question that matters: “…what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Let us ask ourselves, brothers and sisters, in what we put our trust. Do we trust in money to make us happy? Do we think that a good family life will bring us peace? Do we think work can possibly fulfill us? We are wrong. Only in Jesus can we find these things, these answers to our question.
The young man calls Christ “Master,” and the word also means ‘teacher’. Jesus must be both if we are to let Him save us: our master, because we must follow Him, living like Him, and obeying His Word; our teacher, because we must learn from Him what is good and what is evil. We cannot be in charge of our own lives if Jesus is our master. We cannot have all the answers from our own cleverness if Jesus is our teacher. Pride is the opposite of this submission to Christ, and pride will damn us, if we let it. Jesus, though, will save us, if we let Him.
“You know the Commandments,” says Jesus to the young man: and it is true, any Jew knew them, we know them. But there’s more – “You know” them. You know them already, for they are obvious. So far so good of course, but not enough to merit heaven. Do we congratulate ourselves because we are not murderers, or adulterers, or liars, or thieves? “Do you thank the salve for doing what was commanded?” Christ says in Luke’s Gospel, for keeping the Commandments is nothing to glory in: it’s the first rung of the ladder, the absolute bare minimum. “So you also,” says Christ, “when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”’ (Luke 17:9-10).
To go beyond this, as we are called to do, takes grace. And it’s here, where the Law gives way to Grace, that they young man’s story, which looked so promising, turns to sorrow. “Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him,” S Mark tells us, because he had kept the Commandments from his youth, and so was ready for grace, for the next step in his discipleship: “There is one thing you lack,” Christ tells him: “Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor […] then come, follow me.”
Now, hang on, you might be thinking: that sounds very much like two things to me, first to sell all you own and giving the money to the poor, and second to come and follow Christ. But Christ says very clearly “there is onething you lack.” In this way He tells us that the selling all you have and the following after Him are – for this young man – the same, part of one single thing.
Because to follow Christ – to have Him as our Master and our Teacher – means not allowing anything to come between us. For this poor young man, so burdened by wealth, his possessions were his downfall, dragging him back to earth, away from heaven, away from Christ. To follow Him, the young man had to let go of all that. Jesus, looking steadily at him, had discerned all this, for “the Word of God” Who is Christ Jesus Our Lord, “is alive and active,” as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “it can judge the emotions and thoughts [and] no created thing can hide from Him” (Hebrews 4:12-13).
Ask yourselves, brothers and sisters, what holds you back from following Christ? Do you love money more than Him? Do you go the extra mile to earn more money than you need, but not to give it away, or put more effort into getting money than grace? Do you love your family more than Christ? Do you let family visits keep you away from Church? Do you sometimes go to their churches on a Sunday, even when the Mass isn’t being validly celebrated, and so break the Law of the Church? Is a child’s football lessons or music practice more important than their knowing about Jesus and spending time in prayer with Him, practising for Heaven?
Those of us who need to work need to work, and those of us with families need to love them and spend time with them, if that is our calling. Christ isn’t telling us to abandon the real duties that we have. But He does command us – not advise us, or recommend, or suggest, but Command – never to let any of that come between us and Him.
“How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the Kingdom of God!” says the Lord. His disciples marvel at Him, and say “who can be saved?” which is itself puzzling, for they were not rich men, and indeed, as Peter points out, had left ‘everything’ to follow Him. But the Apostles’ astonishment testifies to the fact that we have all received riches, of one kind or another from the Lord, whether talents, or family, or friends, or indeed cold hard cash. All of these things are good, but all of them can become idols, and hold us back from God. If we cease to give Him thanks for them, they mislead us. If we cling to them too tightly, they drag us down. If we refuse to put Christ first, He will refuse to acknowledge us before His Heavenly Father.
It may be that we doubt our own ability to leave behind all these good things for Christ’s sake, to prefer Christ in all things. And we are right to doubt. “For men it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.” God grant, then, that we may have the courage to be ready to leave everything to follow Christ, and so receive grace and joy an hundredfold, “now in this present time, and, in the world to come, eternal life.” Amen.