Today's Gospel we see one of the most beautiful phrases in Sacred Scripture, at least in my humble opinion: Jesus, looking at him, loved him. Oh how that should resound in our hearts and our souls as we think of Jesus doing the same for us. Here is this young man who has done everything he has been taught but he still feels something more is necessary. Why do we call him a young man? As Archbishop Barron said, "Because he came running up." We know little else about him except his desire to get to Heaven and that he knew he must come to Jesus for the answer. That's really a lesson in and of itself isn't it? When we have to make a decision, when we have a crisis in life, when we want to know an answer... how often do we go around asking everyone else their opinion before speaking to our friend, our brother, our Savior first?
The young man calls Jesus good. Jesus responds with that inquiry, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." So many have interpreted Jesus words here to say that he was just a man, that's part of the problem of interpreting scripture outside of the faith in which it was written. We can't interpret this verse without looking at not only all the rest of scripture but what the authors believed. Jesus was not telling the man not to call me good but saying "Do you know who I am? Do you know why you sought me out? I am the Son of God. That is why I am good." He knowing the young mans heart goes on to say you already know the commandments, follow them. The man knows that's not enough, how do we know this? Because he pushes the point. "I've done all this. I need more." That's when He turns and looks on him and loves him. Oh how wonderful a moment that must have been. What more can the young man offer? What more can Christ ask of him?
In the book a Rabbi Talks with Jesus, Jacob Nuesner posits that to all of this Christ adds only one thing. For Neusner it's something unfathomable. Something that if he had heard himself he would walk away. For those of us with faith though, those of us who are Christian, it makes perfect sense. Jesus does not add or take away from the law, but he fulfills it. To the young mans list he simply adds one thing: Himself. "Get rid of all the things holding you back, and come and follow me." The young man was rich and this was his folly. This was what he was clinging too. This wealth was exactly what stood in his way of "letting go, and letting God." It seems like a simple thing doesn't it? This young man was faithful and he believed. He knew where to find the answers and now exactly what was left for him to go on to live in Heaven with God the father for eternity. Yet, he walked away sad. I imagine when he ran up he thought that maybe Jesus would exhort him, "Well done good and faithful servant!" Or maybe he thought that it would be something simple like go to this place and do this thing.
It reminds me of Naaman the Leper who came to Elisha for healing. He expected some quest, some Holy Grail to have to find, in order to receive this miraculous cure. When Elisha told him something so simple to do.. he rejected it and stormed off. How dare this holy man tell him simply to dip in the water? It wasn't until a servant convinced him to give it a try that he received God's blessings. If the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather, then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
Like Naaman and the rich young man, sometimes we want our relationship with God to be more complicated than it is. We go to Confession where Jesus himself meets us Sacramentally and then we wonder afterwards if we did enough, if the priest gave us enough penance, did I remember everything? Or we come to the Eucharist and we worry whether or not we are doing everything right.. do I need to do this first? Or this after? Kneel? In the hand? On the tongue? We spend so much time worrying about all the extras, trying to make it into our own Holy Quest that we forget the simple nature of what God has offered us.. He has added just one thing: Jesus. I'm not talking about ignoring reverence. I am talking about making the moment about Christ and not ourselves. Both men walked away from an encounter with God because it wasn't what they wanted in that encounter. It wasn't how they wanted it to be.
How many have done just that today? "I don't like the priest." "I don't think I need confession." "Why should I go to Mass every Sunday?" Jesus says, "Come and follow me." He gave us a Church with authority. That Church has shown us the revealed way to do things. What is standing in our way? For some of us it's not wealth, not all of us have the same condition this rich young man had.. nor do we know if this man ever turned and followed Christ... what we do know is that he had an attachment to something other than God. Where is mine? That is the question we must ask today. "If Jesus asked me to give up X and come and follow him, would I go away sad?" What is your attachment? Don't miss an encounter with God because it isn't how you thought it should go... rather, let Him lead you to the truth. Jesus is looking at you and loving you, how will you respond?
His servant and yours,
"He must increase, I must decrease."