What Must I Do?
by Rev. Stanley J. Krempa
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good by God alone. You know the commandments; You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother." He replied and said to him, "Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, "You are lacking in one thing. Go sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God." Peter began to say to him, "We have given up everything and followed you." Jesus said "Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father of children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, With persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.
Somewhere along the dusty road to Jerusalem, a man who was both young and rich approaches Jesus with the question of what he must do to be saved. Despite all the privileges which his wealth gave him, something was missing from his life. He comes to Jesus with his question born of both longing and desperation. The Lord tells him to follow the Commandments which he evidently had been doing.
The Lord, seeing the sincerity of his heart and discerning in him the soul of a disciple, looks at him with love and calls on him to do one more thing — to give up his possessions and become His follower. That was the one thing he would not do. He could but he wouldn’t. Both he and Jesus left that encounter saddened.
The Lord then teaches us that wealth can have an almost hypnotic power on some people’s lives. They are willing to give up anything for more wealth. The quest for wealth can become addictive. Jesus calls money that acquires such a demanding role in our life “mammon.” (“We cannot serve God and mammon.”) This is the desire for wealth for which some people will sacrifice family, integrity, friendships, health, faith and even their own souls. There are legends about people selling their souls to the devil. Whatever the truth of such poetic and dramatic stories, some people will sacrifice anything for more material possessions.
We might look at the rich man condescendingly. But each of us has something that we will not surrender to become a more faithful disciple.
Some people refuse to give up their resentments of harm done to them in the past. Such resentments become convenient excuses to justify any failure in our life today.
Some people refuse to give up a wrong relationship, letting it stand as a barrier separating them from God.
Some people refuse to give up hostilities toward another, always waiting for the other person to take the first step toward reconciliation.
Some people refuse to give up prejudices, choosing to label entire groups of people rather than seeing them as individuals.
Some people refuse to give up jealousies, preferring the disease of envy to the healthy counting of the blessings of their life.
These are the “possessions” to which we cling rather than opening ourselves to the grace of God. If we honestly listen to the sacred Scriptures and introduce their wisdom into our lives, we will experience the healing effects of the spiritual surgery that the “two-edged sword” of Scripture can bring. Scripture also brings us the wisdom that today’s first reading reveres because through Scripture’s wisdom we can discern the correct priorities for our life. To continue the medical image, the wisdom of Scripture helps us do a spiritual triage in our life, discerning what is deeply life-giving and what is not.
We don’t know the location of that encounter between the rich young man and the Lord, with the young man seeking salvation and the Lord guiding him to the one thing he must yet surrender. It is good that we don’t know the location of that meeting because such a meeting can take place in our life, anytime, anywhere. That unnamed young man can be you and me.
The Lord can reveal to us the one thing that we must surrender, the one thing that stands in the way of our full embrace of the Gospel, the one thing that blocks our path to Christ like a giant oak fallen across a highway on which we are driving. Will we remove the tree or just stop traveling? Do we have the courage to recognize that one “possession” that burdens us? Do we have the added courage to give it up to the Lord?
Two people met on the road to Jerusalem that afternoon, Jesus and the man who was both young and rich. The potential of that meeting was enormous. But the rich young man would not give up his possessions. He left that meeting saddened. So did the Lord.
Does that maybe sound familiar?
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