Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: you must not kill; you must not commit adultery; you must not steal; you must not bring false witness; you must not defraud; honour your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, ‘There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ the disciples were astounded by these words, but Jesus insisted, ‘My children, ‘ he said to them, ‘hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were more astonished than ever. ‘In that case’ they said to one another ‘who can be saved?’ Jesus gazed at them. ‘For men’ he said ‘it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.’
Peter took this up. ‘What about us?’ he asked him. ‘We have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you solemnly, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not be repaid a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land – not without persecutions – now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life.’
Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him” – this beautiful moment occurred between Jesus and the man after the man’s declaration that he had kept all the commandments from his “earliest days”. It is a reminder to all those who have done the same that Jesus has loved them – and continues to love them - and their fidelity to his commandments throughout their lives.
The man was eager to take another step in the spiritual life, and Jesus responded to his eagerness. The sadness of the man when he realized he could not do what Jesus asked indicates that all is not over – that sadness will lead him to reflect on what was asked of him and to gradually move towards a response.
There are moments in the spiritual life when the step forward is relatively easy. There are other points where the step seems enormous because it involves something of great significance to us. It may mean letting go of something that we see as part of our identity, which makes it extraordinarily hard because we have to re-think who we are. For the man who spoke to Jesus, wealth was not just about the comfort it could bring, it was part of who he had been all his life. The equivalent of his wealth in our lives may not be monetary; it may be a job, position, friendship, or home. It may even be a mission or role in which we have worked hard for God for most of our lives.
Jesus always returns to re-present the next step in a different way. If we are sad because we cannot take the step at this point in time, we can be assured that he will ask again, perhaps proposing a smaller step that will ultimately lead to the bigger step.
As the man turned away sad the question in his mind may have been “Who am I without my wealth?” It is our question too, crucial in the process of letting go: “Who am I without this?