Spirituality of the Readings
For the Love of God!
The Gospel presents a very interesting story, and has rich spiritual advice for us. To put it simply, God is worth more than anything else in our lives.
Let us start with the story, which you will have read, the one about the rich young man. Whoever this man was, he had “many possessions,” as the Gospel tells us. He seems to have been of good heart, possessing humility and a positive opinion about Jesus. Without warning he runs up, literally runs, to Jesus, kneels down before him and asks the question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Since Jesus always looks for faith in a person, this young man’s beginning faith must have impressed him. But Jesus utters a seemingly incongruous reply. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
How in the world does this answer fit the question? Of course, one interpretation would be that it does not, that it is an editor’s mistake.
But I want to suggest a much simpler explanation. Jesus, seeing the seeds of faith in this man, was trying to grow that faith. The logic of Jesus' response would be: (1) Only God is (fully) good. (2) You have called me good. (3) Maybe you are sensing the Godliness in me.
We are not told of a response from the man, but the story shows Jesus taking him through the essentials. Look, he says, you know about the commandments, and he names six of them. He expects that the man will say yes, at which point he can lead him further in the love of God.
The man says much more. “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” A wonderful answer. Jesus’ heart was warmed, which we know because of the rare next line of the Gospel:
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him.”
Keep in mind that Mark’s is the most terse of the four Gospels. This sentence is therefore startling, like sun on a rainy day. Jesus is not just announcing truths to someone or other, he is carefully building faith in someone he loves: faith in God and faith in him.
So he tells the rich young man, fondly, what the next step is. He says,
You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven;
then come, follow me.
Disappointingly, this maneuver does not work. “At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” Like you and me, the man was not ready to go all the way.
Jesus must have been sad too. He says, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” He then explains to the astonished disciples what he meant. Simply put, possessions can control your life. They can become your life and your identity. They stunt your journey to the highest value there is in life, God.
What does this Gospel say to you and me? Jesus looks at us and loves us. Can we gradually let go of those things that thwart our response of love?
Or must we go away sad?
John Foley, SJ