Today’s gospel (Mk 10:17-27) recounts the familiar story of the rich young man who “went away sad” because, although he had kept the Mosaic law in an effort to inherit eternal life, he didn’t think he could manage the “one more thing” that Jesus asked: “Go,” he said, “sell what you have, and give to the poor…then come, follow me.” Over the years I have heard many interpretations from many schools of thought about what Jesus really meant by his response to this young man. It seems illogical to take the command literally since, if we sold everything we had, we would end up on the streets, hungry and cold like the poor we are trying to help. This solution would just add to the number of destitute people in our society. Sheer population facts make it impossible for individuals today to be taken care of by people like the villagers of first century Christianity who were expected to care for strangers who came through their towns. I’ve come to the conclusion that this story has more to do with consciousness and a sense of responsibility than by a dollar amount of charity gifts.
The gospel says that Jesus, looking at him, loved him before he told him what he had to do. I think Jesus was so desirous of having this young man realize that the only thing necessary was love that he put it in terms of material things because that was what the young man was used to dealing with in his life. Clearly this young man was an upstanding citizen, a good person, who desired more than to be a law-abiding contributor to society. But Jesus wanted it all. Jesus wanted him to recognize that everything is possible if we will only surrender to love. Paradoxically, once we come to the point in our lives where we recognize that truth – when we are willing to do anything necessary to follow Christ with our entire life – everything else becomes relative and we are able with St. Paul to say that we are content with whatever life brings to us.
I am working toward that contentment and I have a hope that the young man encountered Jesus again and, having reflected and yearned for more, was able to offer himself in love to Jesus and ended up with more happiness than he could ever have believed possible in this life.