28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus looking at him, loved him and said to him, “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.” At this, his face fell. When I was young and heard this parable, I always thought the young man could easily have done it. What’s so difficult about giving up your possessions? I was young living in my Dad’s house and it was my Dad who stood between us and the ditch. So I could afford to be glib. Then I joined the seminary and was taken up with my sacrifices for the sake of God. At a party, I remember talking to a family acquaintance who had made lots of money in the silver market. He asked me about the priesthood and of course I had to let him know that I was giving up everything for God. And he said to me something that pricked my balloon. “How can you give up everything when you don’t know what it is to have your own wealth as yet?
Later, when working with my Dad in the family business I realized the truth of what this gentleman said. I experienced what Jesus calls cares about money. It’s not that I had a lust for money. It sure helps to have enough of it. But I found that money, when it’s your money, generates obligations automatically. Good, respectable obligations but they are still a silken web woven around you. You have to care for money. You have to be responsible about investing it, saving it etc. The problem with money is that it is symbolic. It is not like food and drink. With food and drink, your body can only take so much. It gets sated and sick after too much. But with something like money which symbolizes so many things you can own with it, or money which symbolizes security – you can accumulate, and accumulate it and your soul, not your body, ca never feel full. This is why avarice is a disease of the spirit. And there is another thing that happens when the care for money increases, you begin to assess people in terms of how useful they are to you in furthering your money. This is the corrupting effect of Mammon – it converts human relationships into material values. The net effect is that the poor become invisible to you.
I therefore empathize with the earnest young man who came running up to Jesus. This is some who kept all the commandments. Probably had financial savvy, worked hard, and had good luck. His wealth was certainly not ill gotten. He was looking for eternal life. I find it very interesting to note how Jesus put things to him – You are lacking in one thing. Let’s say you were the young man – you would grab on to this – okay Lord tell me the one thing I must add to what I already have. Not so fast. This is the shocker. This one thing unfortunately edges out everything else. It costs nothing less than everything you have. This one thing eliminates the competition. To love the Lord means you either love Him alone or you do not love Him at all. The Gospel tells us that Jesus loved him. And the young man got it. Imagine being hit with the brightness of a million suns. In that instant, he knew this was the only thing worth having. This is why his face fell. This love was worth it all. The tragedy is he knew he was settling for second best and yet he could not just make the break. His sadness is the sadness of infidelity to the piercing call of the only love worth possessing.
Now in some cases, the call might be to actually give up our possessions – as in the case of this young man. But in many cases, we might keep our possessions but they cannot be our first love. They are held by us to serve this first love – the Lord Jesus. This is why it’s not just the poor who are called by Christ. Even the rich are. But there is no smooth transition from one to another. There is a rupture. It is not simple to transition from security in money to insecurity in following God. There’s a Sufi story of a holy man and his student on pilgrimage who stayed with a poor farmer one day for lunch. The farmer had only one possession, a goat. He was very proud to share the goat’s milk with his guests. Before leaving, the young man asked his teacher, “Will you not pray a blessing on the generous host?” And the older man prayed, “May his goat die.” The Sufi master saw what was holding back the man from God. Not much just a goat but the goat had to go. You are lacking in one thing. Go sell what you have, give to the poor and then follow me.
My brothers and sisters, there is only one pearl of great price worth having. The Lord Christ Jesus. But to follow Him we have to set all our other loves in order. They cannot be parallel loves. They all must take second place to him. In time our experience must begin to mirror the Book of Wisdom ‘ I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire.