Do you know who is going through a lot right now? Literally everyone. Life is full of challenges. Navigating the obstacles can be perplexing. One can be doing all the “right” things, gaining success, but somehow contentment remains elusive. Others start from the bottom, fight for every opportunity, and never seem to get ahead. But, ultimately, what are we striving for?
The young man in today’s Gospel knows what he wants. He has followed all the rules, earned worldly riches, but this formula hasn’t brought him happiness, and he remains unfulfilled. He knows something is missing and asks Jesus what else he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ answer tells us what the young man lacks. He has followed the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. Jesus invites the young man to leave everything to gain everything. But the young man can’t do it. He is so attached to his worldly goods he cannot imagine giving it all up, even though Jesus tells him he will gain everything – eternal life – if he does.
This dichotomy – giving everything to get everything – reminds me of the Prayer of Saint Francis with all of its opposites. To be an instrument of God’s peace, we are asked to give hope in despair, pardon in pain, faith in doubt, and love amidst hatred. We are called first to console others, understand others, and love others before seeking these things for ourselves. This selflessness is exactly the point the wealthy man misses. He seems to be working entirely for his own salvation. In answering the young man, Jesus names only the commandments that relate to how we treat each other. He is reminding the young man that we are each called to love one another and to be His disciples. This is why we follow the rules.
The disciples were also shocked by what Jesus said. They had followed him but now were hearing that maybe that wasn’t enough. Jesus comments that a rich man entering heaven is more challenging than a camel passing through the eye of a needle, which sounds impossible. Especially for those who have been given a lot, for they must give it all away. He is calling us to be His representatives in this broken world. To share the gifts he has given us to make Heaven on Earth.
God’s commandments are meant to help us love each other in such a way that laws are no longer needed. It is here that we learn that God is pursuing people’s hearts. When His laws are written in our hearts, we receive the gift of eternal life through His grace. Salvation is God’s doing, not ours. The young man walks away filled with sadness because he feels he has done everything he was supposed to do, but still, the reward eludes him. We must ask ourselves if we, like the young man, are just striving to be “good enough” to get to heaven. Are we diligently following the rules but missing the joy of the Gospel? Jesus reminds us that eternal life is a gift, an inheritance, not something to be earned.
It’s so easy to be turned inward on ourselves, preoccupied with our daily concerns, that we fail to see the despair, pain, and doubt of others. We know, but sometimes forget, that literally everyone is going through a lot right now. So when Jesus asks the young man to turn himself inside out, He is also asking us to turn ourselves inside out – to shift our focus to others. It all comes down to who and how we love, not what we do. It’s not about being good enough; it’s about loving God, and your neighbor, with all of your heart. Are you willing to put yourself last, to become God’s channel of graces and blessings for other people? This is where we can find the joy of the Gospel.
The first two commandments show us the way. Loving God and one another is how we will receive eternal life. When God’s law is written in our hearts, the Kingdom of God breaks through our earthly existence and changes everything. We can strive to renew our human relationships on all levels. Cultivating generosity is one way to thread the needle. Trusting in God and strengthened through scripture, we know that every perfect gift is from above (James 1:17), it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), and we are to use the gifts we receive to serve others (1 Peter 4:10). So maybe it’s not so impossible to receive eternal life; we just need to do it in God’s way.
We can remember that when things seem in opposition or impossible, God can transform them. Like the cross that symbolized the end of all hope but now represents the source of eternal life.
If you are looking to renew relationships, share your gifts, and cultivate generosity, the perfect opportunity is to participate in Compassion Week. Compassion Week begins October 10th and is a time for people of all ages and abilities to come together for ACTS of SERVICE locally and globally. It is a time to serve others AND build a strong, compassionate, and empathetic community responsive to the needs of others. Visit CompassionWeekLosAltos.org to signup.
— Reflection by Pat Cremer