On his way with his disciples to Jerusalem and his cross, Jesus encountered the rich man who eagerly sought Jesus’ counsel, was disappointed and provoked the disciples to ask Jesus, “Who can be saved?” As was his custom, Jesus made the occasion a lesson for his disciples—and us.
The question of the rich man, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” may seem to have a narrow focus, yet it touched convictions about God, convictions Jesus laid bare in his reply to the rich man: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Jesus’ answer confuses us because we confuse doing good with the Source of all that is good. God’s goodness exceeds, even excludes human claims we are good, as well as human needs to impress on others our real or artificial goodness. Jesus began his answer to the rich man—and to us today—that God is the source of goodness.
By doing whatever is good we join ourselves, ally ourselves with the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. By doing whatever is good we put ourselves on God’s side; we don’t manipulate God to our sides. We place ourselves on God’s side when we respond to the commands God gave us to inherit God’s life. Jesus replied to the rich man’s question by rehearsing all the commandments having to do with human relations with one another. You and I inherit God’s life by how we live with one another!
As challenging as that is for us, I think we get that like the rich man did. It’s the rest of Jesus’ answer that comes less easily: exchange treasure of earth for treasure of heaven. The matter is not simply one of having nothing; rather it is drawing closer and closer to the Source of goodness, life, love and generosity. By coming nearer and absorbing with heart and mind what flows from God—in daily practice, goodness, life, love and generosity—we follow Jesus, we become his disciples daily. Yet, to follow Jesus, to be his disciples, does not make us good. Oh, that it were that easy; but it’s not.
In practice possessions are risks to promoting goodness, life, love and generosity when possessions grip us and manage us. Jesus said we are to manage possessions not be managed by them. To the rich man Jesus put it this way: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
Surrender of wealth does not mean throwing our wealth on the junk heap. Surrender of wealth by love, generosity, concern for others and care for them gradually yet really discloses God’s power: all things, including our entering God’s realm of life, are possible with God!
Two verses, early and late in this gospel selection, are key. Read together, they make sharing God’s life nothing short of miraculous, and they tame human ambition instead of the gospel Jesus proclaimed. The verses give us access to God’s mercy toward us: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? ...For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God!”
When we pray with those two verses, as we keep them together in mind and heart, they don’t suffocate the wonder of creation around us and of people in our lives. As we pray with those verses, as we keep them together in our minds and hearts, they help us not overreach ourselves or substitute our ambition for God’s merciful power. They help us release the gospel into our lives and the world and not tame it or try to fashion it to our liking.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, praise the Trinity for creating you and giving you creation to make a return of love to our God more easily. Ask the disciples, who listened often to Jesus, to present you to him. In your words praise and thank Jesus for his gospel and ask Jesus to help you continue to be his disciple more in fact than in name. Close by saying slowly the prayer Jesus taught us. It teaches us to show to others the mercy Jesus works in us.