Familiarity breeds condemnation -Memorial – St Pius X – Matthew 19:16-22
While the Gospel of today tells us that ‘someone’ came to Jesus, the identity of that person is revealed in part when we are told in verse 20 that he is a young man who also had many possessions(verse 22). Because his name is never revealed or perhaps he never revealed it, he has come to be known as the ‘rich young man.’
They say that familiarity breeds contempt and in this case, familiarity breeds condemnation. This rich young man has been condemned by preachers as the one who walked away from Christ because he would not give up his riches. There is a tendency on the part of preachers and Bible readers to make this a one-point agenda; riches are evil.
While we may tom-tom our condemnation of this rich young man, few have truly walked away from the wealth and power that the world has to offer. While condemnation comes quickly to us, the implementation of the same command of Christ is hard to swallow when the same challenge is thrown our way. So, rather than settle down to our forgone conclusions of what this text teaches us, let us look at what we can learn afresh.
Here was a seeker. He comes to Jesus giving Our Lord due respect; he calls him “teacher.” He may not have had the grace to see that he was talking to the Messiah. But for now, he is both respectful and humble enough to seek the Lord’s advice.
The young man assumes that life eternal can be obtained if one does that ‘one good deed.’ Perhaps he was looking for that pass that could get him beyond the walls of the pearly gates. The young man is a man of faith. He believes in eternal life, yet his faith is based on a misconception; Heaven can be bought!
Christ is clear in his response; keep the commandments. Notice Christ does not say keep a commandment but rather keep the commandments; all of them. But then again, there were ten of them and the Lord seems to pick five for the young man and then seems to add one that is not in the table of ten; love your neighbour as yourself. Notice that Jesus highlights the commandments which deal with man’s relation to a fellow man. The Lord had pierced the heart of this young man and knew that he kept the first three commandments relating to his relationship with God; this it seems was a given. Yet it was the young man’s relationship with others that needed screening.
In response to the Lord’s teaching, the young man seems to assert that he has kept ‘all these.’ He is certain that he has not killed, not committed adultery, not born false witness, not stolen and has honoured his father and mother. This itself is a stellar record for most people. Yet it is by his admission that he ‘lacks something.’
Here was a good young man who had only done good. This is a given, for even the Lord does not contest the goodness of this young man. What happens next is not the condemnation that we have grown accustomed to assuming but rather a challenge that a young man failed to take. What happens next is not a condemnation of riches but the inability to move ourselves to perfection; a perfection that matches the calling of the Lord. Mark 10:21 tells us that in response to the man’s answer, Jesus loved him. Jesus had compassion for this man, who was misguided as to think that he really could justify himself before God.
Look carefully at the text. Jesus does not demand perfection but rather invites us to perfection. Like the call to discipleship, Jesus uses the word ‘IF.’ If you wish to be my disciple, If you wish to be perfect. There is an invitation to grow deeper in faith, there is no compulsion. You could be happy keeping the commandments and yet like the rich young man desire a deeper relationship with heaven.
In this case, Jesus says to the rich young man, “Go sell your possessions and give your money to the poor and you will have treasures in heaven; then come follow me.” Perhaps many of us reading this text may console ourselves and say that we do not have possessions. That may be true but what is also true is that there are other people, other things, other beliefs that we are attached to; things and people that we can not and will not let go of. These are the attachments that prevent us from that deeper relationship with heaven. The call to forsake everything and follow Jesus is a call to put God first in all things. We are not bad people because we have not been able to let go, we are just people who struggle and grieve like the young man to take the further leap into a life of faith and fervour for God.
The young man greaves that he can’t give up his ‘many possessions.’ That does not make him a greedy man nor does that make him a bad man. He is simply a man who falls short of excellence and we know that faith calls us to excellence. Romans 16:19 says, “Be excellent in what is good, be innocent of evil.”