A young man approached Jesus seeking to know what he must do to attain eternal life. Jesus shared that the key was to keep the commandments. The man asked which ones he was to follow, a reasonable request as there were 613 commandments to choose from! Jesus gave him six: do not kill, commit adultery, steal or bear false witness; do honor his father and mother, and love his neighbor as himself (cf. 19:18-19). The man affirmed that he had followed them all. Then he asked that next question, “What do I still lack” (Mt 19:20)? I can feel the disciples wince, see the mouth of Jesus curl into a smile while his left eyebrow raises. Mark is more eloquent than me: “Jesus looked at him, and loved him…” (Mk 10:17). Matthew, in his Gospel account, does not engage in such subtleties.
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor,and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions (Mt 19:21-22). The young man was so close!
Jesus saw that which was keeping this man from following him. Jesus gave him the opportunity to renounce what he had, give to the poor, and have eternal life, which was his original request. It is what we have all been created for, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (St Augustine, Confessions). The young man knew what he needed to do but was too attached to his wealth to let go, so he walked away sad.
We do not know if the young man reconsidered Jesus’ offer and returned to Jesus. I invite you to find a quiet space today, enter the stillness, and return to this scene in your imagination. Play it out again in your mind and come to the same ending, with the disciples and Jesus watching the rich man walk away sad. Continue your observation of them as they ever so slowly turn their heads and gaze at you. You then ask Jesus, “What do I still lack that is keeping me from walking a more intimate walk with you?”
What are you holding onto that is keeping you from giving yourself to the One who is truly Good? Jesus looks at you and loves you, and says, “If you wish to be perfect…” How does he fill in the blank for you?
Painting: “Christ and the Rich Young Ruler” Heinrich Hoffman, 1889