The readings this week have been really special, and isn't it strange how things you think you know by heart suddenly come alive? I will side with those who say they never actually read their Bible the way they started to when they became Catholic.
It is as if I saw with my own eyes the rich young man who approaches Jesus and asks him what does he have to DO to have eternal life. Why is Jesus so dismissive, why doesn't He reveal Himself? The young man's question echoes another question from John 6, when the people asked Jesus - what MUST WE DO to do the works of God? Remember His reply, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."
To the young man, Jesus replies that only God is good. He doesn't say anything about faith, but he urges him to keep the commandments. This is a paradox in what I see to be a teaching on the grace of God as opposed to futile human efforts. The paradox is somewhat illogical because, when the young man says that he has already been keeping the commandments, Jesus suddenly makes an outrageous proposition. But God is above our logic. And Jesus saw right through the young man's self-righteousness. Not that he didn't work in the Father's vineyard - Jesus didn't denigrade his efforts. But the young man's salvation lies with Jesus and He is right there - His Lord and His God...
This time, when I was reading these passages, I noticed the young man's question, "what do I still need to DO?" He seems to be aware he lacks something, there is a longing he cannot satisfy by his undoubtedly moral and exemplary life. I think Jesus's eyes were softly smiling when He was saying "Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven". And then your heart will be at rest, and you will be free to follow what I am offering you. "THEN COME, FOLLOW ME".
What did these words mean to the young man? Did he realize he wasn't really saving himself by trying to look good, to please his own ego? I think Jesus cut him to the heart with these words. Impossible to follow, and that was precisely the point. The word of God is life, and obeying the commandments was to give life to the people, but here before Him stood the Word incarnate, offering him life, and the man couldn't accept it. He grew to trust his own efforts to the point he could not accept the grace of God.
It was an offer of a life with no security for tomorrow, an offer that defies all logic and experience, a burden that is light one day and seems impossible to bear for five more minutes another day. They will spit in your face and throw you out of the synagogue you love so much - and I will ask you to love them and forgive them from the heart. There is no certainty and no effort of yours you can rely upon - because every step will seem impossible until you actually make it. And what is worst of all - in the depths of your heart you know this is the only thing you need...
The young man went away sorrowful. I am imagining the insane situation of him selling all his posessions and running joyfully after Jesus, to embark on a life of a penniless vagabond, and later a martyr. But there is one important word here - JOYFULLY.
As one anonymous man wrote, I thought if I didn't indulge my habit, I would die. And when it turned out that I didn't die, I was shocked to find out it was possible to live without it. But he never would have found out, would he, unless he denied himself the very thing that held him captive... And I think it is only when someone dares to let go that they find out what it means to live by grace. Is it easy? Oh no, it is the most difficult thing in the world! And the worst part is that you have to do it daily :-) :-) :-)