In today’s gospel, we see a man asking Jesus what he needs to do to gain eternal life. Surprisingly, we don’t hear the ‘Grace Alone’ response of “Nothing at all! I’ll do it all for you, for my grace is sufficient”, but a rather simple response: “Keep the commandments”. “Which ones?” the man asks, in what seems like a silly, dodging kind of question, since we would presume all of them! Jesus specifies many of the original ten commandments, which if the man keeps, he will “enter into LIFE”. Again the man interjects “But I’ve done all that! What else?”. You or I might be happy at this point, knowing that we’ve done all that we have to do for eternal life itself! But the man isn’t satisfied, continuing his quite strange responses to Jesus. “Well if you want to be PERFECT, give away everything you have to the poor, and follow me”. At this, the man left, and was too sad about the prospect of losing all of his possessions.
So what happened here? Was this man’s heart in the right place? Do all of us need to surrender literally everything we have? And what can you and I learn from this encounter? Here are three points that I gleaned from today’s reading.
- Jesus’ first response to the man was “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good”. I think this is an important primer for what we believe about eternal life and grace: God is Good, Goodness itself. Man, on his own and apart from God, is not good BECAUSE of our fallen state (although we were originally created good). So when this man asked what “good” he could do, Jesus made sure to clarify “anything good in you, and any good that you can do, comes from God alone”.
- After Jesus clarifies the role of grace, he clarifies what we need to do: Following the Commandments leads to eternal life. This is not us “earning salvation with our own works”. A relationship with God is truly what saves us: but am I really your friend (or in a good relationship at all) if I constantly disrespect you, ignore you, etc? Following the commandments is what assures us that we are right with God. Aside from that, God truly is Ruler over all, and He wants us to follow his commandments, which he made ultimately for our benefit! And when we fall short, we always have a space to lean into His mercy, which He truly desires to give us.
- The third point is this: Sacrifice leads to perfection. Beyond living rightly and running the race, we can only give up everything we have and serve radically. I immediately think of the religious orders in our Church, which Lumen Gentium from the Second Vatican Council calls the “perfect” state of life. We aren’t all called to this kind of perfection, as many of us are laity in the Church. But we all still can receive eternal life, and are called to live a life of following the Lord. The benefits of this kind of perfection are, as Jesus says in the reading, building up “treasure in heaven”.
Ultimately this reading also shows us that true wealth comes not in treasure stored on the earth, but in sharing what we have with others. A friend of mine who leads a ministry often says “Brendan, I’m a rich man” because of the incredible community that we have (due in part to his own giving of himself). We can sometimes say we want to follow Jesus, but bring all these things in tow with us. And when he asks us to surrender them, we walk away sad, focusing our eyes on our possessions and not on Him. It’s important to remember that surrender does not mean death or loss of everything. It means we very well may get all those things back (now that Jesus is Lord over them), and potentially more! And it means we very likely will get a greater reward in heaven.
Songs for reflection:
I Surrender by Hillsong Worship
Here’s my Heart by Chris Tomlin
I Shall Not Want by Audrey Assad
Lay it Down by Matt Maher
Goodness of God by Bethel
Yes I Will by Vertical Worship
Brendan is just your average Millennial hipster: He likes playing guitar, throwing frisbees, sipping whiskey, and grooming his beard. But he also has a passion for walking with teens and young Christ-followers, hearing every person’s story, and waking up the Church. Brendan works at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Lenexa, Kansas (near Kansas City) as a Youth Music Minister, fusing together his two loves of sharing Christ and sharing the power and need for good and beautiful contemporary praise. https://www.instagram.com/brendanbeardo/