THE RICH YOUNG MAN
No member of our rich western society can listen to today’s Gospel with complacency. We might not consider ourselves well off in relation to our neighbours, but in relation to most of the world’s population we are very well off. I’m not sure that we are always really aware of this? As such we have a lot in common with the rich young man who approaches Jesus in today’s Gospel.
Jesus first corrects him by saying that only God is good. I think that many of us have the temptation to think that we are naturally good and that we have not sinned. But this is pride and it doesn’t take into account our spiritual poverty or our need for God. This rich young man, who is following the commandments, has yet come to Jesus because in his heart he feels that he is lacking something. And Jesus confirms the lack.
In his Angelus address on this Gospel on October 12th, 2015 Pope Francis talks about three “gazes” of Jesus. Jesus first gazes with love on this young man. He knows his heart and his deep desires and offers him the way to happiness:
‘Go sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’
‘But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.’
God is offering him the eternal riches of his love but this man’s earthly idols are getting in the way and making him sad. In a way he is breaking a commandment that has so far not been mentioned by Jesus:
‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not have false gods before me.’
And his refusal to trust Jesus and to follow him is ultimately a refusal of the happiness that God is offering him and that his heart craves for.
Jesus’ second gaze is one of warning as he says to his disciples:
‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God.’
This astounds his disciples in a culture where religious authority figures had associated their own wealth with being a sign of God’s blessing. Jesus gives us the image of the camel and the eye of a needle to drive home his point about the danger of following false idols.
When his disciples then say: “In that case who can be saved?” Jesus responds with a third gaze, a gaze of encouragement: ‘Everything is possible for God.’
Pope Francis says that:
“Only in welcoming with humble gratitude the Lord’s love do we free ourselves from the seduction of idols and the blindness of our illusions. Money, pleasure and success dazzle, but later they disappoint: They promise life but cause death. The Lord asks of us a detachment from these false riches to enter into true life, a full life that is authentic and luminous.’
In the final section of today’s Gospel Peter asks: ‘What about us? We have left everything and followed you.’
Jesus responds by saying that not only will they have eternal life in the next life, but that even in this life, if they persevere, they will be rewarded a hundredfold. Jesus is offering them a joy and a peace that the world cannot give. It is only by meeting Jesus’ gaze, eye to eye, and by faithfully following him, that we can truly come to appreciate the real riches that God’s love has in store for us.