I’ve been working with a client who is writing her memoir, and it’s got me thinking about the things we keep and the things we discard as we move through the different seasons of our lives.
As I look at my own life and the lives of others around me, what I observe is how much value—both materialistic and sentimental—we place on things. Western culture encourages that valuation: we’re constantly exposed to ads telling us what stuff will make our lives better, longer, happier.
Today’s Gospel offers a different vision.
A young man approaches Jesus and asks him how to get to heaven. He’s already doing everything he’s supposed to do, keeping the commandments, living a good life. For a lot of people, that would have been enough; but something in this young man was telling him there was more. Something was calling out to him.
He took his questions to Jesus, and Jesus gave him a very clear answer. It wasn’t the same answer he gave to Zacchaeus, who promised to give only half of his possessions to the poor, nor the same answer he gave others who asked to follow him. Jesus instead identified the one thing this man was not ready to give up–his possessions and the lifestyle they entailed. Jesus knew that was where the problem would lie.
Sometimes when we ask God a question, he gives us an answer we didn’t anticipate, and often, it’s one we don’t like. When Jesus challenges this good young man to let go of the material things he treasures, the fellow walks away, grieving. He had been hoping for a different answer. He’s saddened by the thought of giving up what’s most precious to him.
And he can’t do it.
I live in a small cottage and keep my materialistic needs to a minimum. I don’t have clutter because I don’t have a lot of things. If God asked me to give up any (or even all) of those things, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. I could do it.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other things I’d find very difficult indeed to give up, and I suspect you might feel the same.
What I’m hearing in this story is a question: What would be the most difficult thing to give up if Jesus asked me to give it up? Is Jesus asking me, right now, to let go of something so I can be truly free to follow him? Are there attitudes I’m clinging to — grudges, resentments, self-pity, bitterness, judging others, laziness, insensitivity to others’ needs — that I don’t want to give up?
To follow Jesus, we need to shake off whatever binds us: wealth, esteem, comfort. Any “wealth” that I prioritize can be a block to freedom in following Christ. The man who met Jesus in this incident went away sad and unfulfilled, a sure sign that his possessions were possessing and imprisoning him.
So I’m placing myself in this story today. I am telling Jesus that I keep the commandments, that I go to Mass, that I pray the rosary, and I ask him, “What else should I do?” And I’m almost holding my breath as I wait for the answer.
What answer would make me sad, because it would entail giving up more than I want to give up?
What answer would make you sad?
Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at http://www.pauline.org.
Feature Image Credit: Nawalescape, https://pixabay.com/photos/gold-bahraini-gold-bahrain-jewelry-1369453/