28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Cratloe Parish
I met a young person yesterday who shared his story with me. He had been doing quite well in a business he had set up and was going out with a girl that he thought the world of. But suddenly in a short span of time, the business went bust and he discovered the girl had betrayed him. His life crumbled and he entered a very dark space. It was the encounter with a person of faith who spoke to him of what really matters in life and how Christian faith as a relationship with Jesus can make such a difference that set him on another track, one that brought hope and joy.
The young man in today’s Gospel was a good man. He was keeping the commandments. And yet he knew something was missing. Somehow he had understood he would be able to find it in Jesus. So he ran up to him. And we get the wonderful line in the Gospel: Jesus looked at him and loved him. It’s the only time we’re told so explicitly about Jesus’ glance. It was full of love. And in that love there was mercy, forgiveness, but also hope, new direction. He was looking at the young man with God’s eyes. And he recognised how the young man was certainly good but goodness in itself is not everything (after all, there were many great good teachers and philosophers around). What the young man lacked was a deep relationship with God, not just rule-keeping or following a code. It meant bringing your whole life into the way of love believing in God who is Love. So out of love, Jesus indicated that to him.
But the young man went away sad. Presumably he went away sad because he could see that what Jesus was proposing was right. That until then he thought he could keep a certain control on the God and eternal life part of his life, by keeping the commandments etc. Religion could be a private affair, a part of life that you can put in a box and take it out now and then when needed. Instead, however, the young man must have seen that Jesus was saying – no, to follow Jesus is a whole life project. It’s about letting love, the kind of love Jesus is bringing, shed its light and wisdom on every aspect of your life – from relationships to how we deal with wealth.
We’re not told how things ultimately worked out for the young man. Perhaps he thought about things again and came back. We don’t know. What we do know is that each of us, when we hear this Gospel, is today meeting Jesus with the same encounter. In our hearts, we always have the question – what must I do to inherit eternal life? What must I do to be really happy, fulfilled, at peace? Jesus is looking at each of us with those eyes of love, so full of hope for each of us. And he again repeats those words - 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. It’s not that he is saying we must remove ourselves from our world, or from having money or from doing well. His point, rather, is that we need to make sure we bring all of this into God’s logic of love, sharing, trusting in God’s providence. In order to love, we need hearts that are free. Our riches can be money, but they can also be other things we cling to with our heart that are not God. Our hearts are made for God and the encounter with the God who was humanised in Jesus Christ.
Pope Benedict put it well when he said: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”