If you are doing everything the laws of God and the Church expected of you why would you ever ask the question the rich young man asked Jesus? If he kept all the commandments and the obeyed all the laws why would he be concerned about attaining eternal life? Could it be that we know and have been taught from childhood obedience equals reward and disobedience equals punishment? Was he seeking confirmation that what he did was good enough? If that is so, then his need for confirmation was due to his lack of understanding what God desires from us. He was versed in the law, but he was not intimate with God.
During my 20 years of ministry this one question about what it takes to attain eternal life continues to be the one question I encounter form people in hospice, in hospitals, nursing homes and by those senior citizens living alone knowing they have outlived their spouses, siblings and friends. It is also the unasked question of all generations from young to old. This gospel story is not a story about a young man’s encounter with Jesus for it is directed at us to see our own failure to go beyond keeping the law. Yes, it is us, every day by good people who have lived moral lives, lives of service to the church and of tithing to the church. But still we do wonder if that is good enough to attain eternal life.
Perhaps the real issue is something we instinctively know but cannot seem to incorporate in our lives as believers and as Christians. What is this unknown thing we sense but cannot seem to allow it to be the fuel motivating our lives as disciples? There is a difference in us being faithful Catholics and us living the life God is calling us to live as members of his kingdom. I believe this unknown thing is we have an innate desire to be connected to God. A desire to live the life God planned for us as we were being formed in our mother’s womb.
You may doubt God has a plan for you but over and over in the scriptures God tells us we were created for a purpose and we have been are gifted to achieve that purpose. Listen to God as he speaks that spiritual truth to us – “…for we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do: (Eph. 2:10 NIV). How does following the law help us discover those good works God has prepared in advance for us to do? We are missing the real purpose of our existence by doing exactly what the rich young man was doing.
What do we desire as a reward for our faithfulness? Visiting those individuals, I mentioned before was an eye opening experience for it seems what we desire is to be spiritual without allowing God to be the center of our lives. We do allow God to occupy a part of our lives, but we retain a larger part of our lives to be lived according to our plan not his.
How many parables must we hear to open our eyes and hearts to the truth in the words he said, “it is in dying that we bear fruit.” It is in our willingness to say yes Jesus we will discover “…through Jesus Christ the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Rm. 8:2). God’s plan for our holiness is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit who will move within us to overcome those sins we cannot stop from controlling us.
Why ask Jesus “what must we do to inherit eternal life” when he has clearly told us what is required. The real question before us is, can we give up controlling our spiritual life by our own strength instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to open our minds and hearts to the life changing love of God.
We will never be strong enough to never sin against the law. That rich young man is delusional if he believes he has never sinned. His own words tell us he is full of spiritual pride and arrogance just two of the sins Jesus says comes out of our hearts and defiles us (Mk. 7:20-22). He was looking for a pat on the back for his wonderful piety but instead was hit with a hard truth that we must do more than just obey the law. Jesus is telling us it takes a willingness to embrace God’s plan for us and his desire for us to reflect his glory.
Listen to God speaking to us through the prophet Jeremiah, don’t you “…know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). God desires to give us a life without doubt about our destiny and it is ours if we live it according to his plan for our holiness instead of our own plan for our holiness.
By doing it his way we are certain about our future and at the same time we are never certain when that moment will come when Jesus tells us “feed them yourselves” as he did the disciples the day he fed thousands. They failed the test that day just as the rich young man failed the test in this gospel.
But we know the disciples did ultimately do all the works that Jesus did, and they brought the message of God’s love and forgiveness to the world. What made the difference? The promise of God to change them by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. That same promise was made to us. It is ours when we invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
This gospel story should be a reality check for us. It should make us examine our spiritual life and ask if it is being guided by the laws we know are moral and should be followed or is it being guided by the law written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The first demands strength of will from us and the second demands a willingness to surrender of our will to God.
What will happen if we surrender is God’s promise? His promise will come true and our hearts will be changed, and we will automatically follow all God’s laws and precepts.
Amazing, isn’t it – surrender means we will without effort will fulfill the law.