Invitation not information- Monday, 20th Week in ordinary time – Matthew 19: 16- 22

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich Hofmann

Invitation not information- Monday, 20th Week in ordinary time – Matthew 19: 16- 22

There are many unnamed characters in the Gospels; the Syro-Phoenician woman, the men from whom demons were cast out in Gennesaret or the father of the boy from whom Jesus cast out a demon at the foot of Mount Tabor.

Today we read of another unnamed person whose identity is revealed in dribs and drabs all through the seven verse pericope. The Gospel begins by calling him, ‘someone’, and then reveals he is male, young and finally that he is rich.  That makes him a rich young man.

The rich young nameless man has a lot of things going well for him; or so it seems. He is rich; plousioi in Greek, indicated that the man was rich enough to live properly on his income that was derived from land that he had hired to tenant farmers. This puts him ahead of the peneis or the working class who formed 70 per cent of the population and even more than the ptokhoi, the lowest class of people who could barely eke out a living and comprised of 28 per cent of the population. That put our young man in the two per cent creamy layer of society.

The rich man was also young; but more than that, he was ‘a man’. Misogynistic as this may sound, you have to understand this statement purely with a first century patriarchal mind set. A Jewish male, woke up each morning, to the crowing rooster. As his feet touched the ground he would faithfully utter a prayer from the Jewish prayer book, the Siddur. In this prayer, he would thank God for not making him a goy or Gentile, a salve or a woman. These three categories of people were deeply frowned upon and looked down on in first century Jewish society.

So the young man ‘seemingly’ has a lot going for him. To his roll call of material and physical assets, he also has an enviable religious life. He has maintained all the five commandments that Jesus sites from the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) including the additional command to love ones neighbour as oneself.

Yet there is a void and an emptiness that he cannot fathom and he admits to a yearning or lacking in his life. His wealth could satisfy his human hunger not his spiritual thirst. It was not what he was eating but what was eating him.

Jesus calls the man to perfection. Teleios, the Greek word for perfection, is not some abstract life without any mistakes but rather a call to be ‘mature’ and ‘complete’. The young man is now being called to be a mature adult in his spiritual life. This involved the challenge of being detached from his earthly possessions, that had stunted to some degree, his spiritual striving for perfection.

Understand clearly, Jesus does not demand that all of us give up our riches right now. He is  directing his answer, in context to the question of the young man, who seeks more in his life. Jesus does not demand perfection from the young man for Jesus says, “IF you wish to be perfect”. That is a big IF, and that IF needs a lot of soul searching; a soul searching that the young man was not willing to do for he walks away as soon as the demands  of discipleship are placed before him.

So what then is the ‘fault’ of this young man?  Mathetes, from where you get the English word maths and which translates as ‘disciple’ in English, really means, ‘one who has thought things through’. Discipleship is therefore a well thought out decision in answer to a call; one that requires the disciple to be single minded and focused only on the Master. The young man was perhaps merely seeking information on how to obtain eternal life; Jesus was offering him an invitation to enter eternal life.

The rich young man loved the Lord but it seems he loved his riches even more. While he took pride in keeping the commandments, he had inadvertently broken the first commandment. For him, his wealth had precedence over his love for Yahweh. He had another god in his life, his possessions. These he would rather keep than trade for the treasures in heaven. Knowing that his heart was exposed, the young man walked away ‘grieving’.

Make no mistake, neither this or any other passage of scripture is a condemnation of wealth per se. The Bible is emphatic that money is not the root of all evil but the love of money is!  The question that we are faced with is, do we possess wealth or does wealth possess us? You know the answer!

Fr Warner D’Souza

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