'And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
Luke 12. 19, 20
How many of us live as if we had all the time of the world and concern ourselves near exclusively with worldly things, paying scant attention to God? Yet the day will come for all who live thus when they hear the words 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.' And what then of their souls?
eternal, and merciful God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: inspire the
hands in the writing, the lips in the preaching, and our hearts in
the pondering so that we may be led deeper into your truth, better
know and do your will, and grow in holiness day by day. Amen.
Our Gospel reading this morning begins with the detail that it is just as
Jesus is setting out on a journey that the rich man comes to
him. And I think we may place some significance on that fact. Jesus,
if we look at the passages of scripture that precede this incident,
has been going from place to place teaching; he would have, it seems
fair to assume, spent a reasonable amount of time in each town or
village or place on the road he stopped at. So he has been at the
place he is leaving now for a while – many hours at least; possibly
the man must only have heard of his presence. Perhaps he was
away from the town on business and had just returned; perhaps other
affairs have kept him occupied. Whatever the reason, he heard about
the fact that the 'good teacher' is near only very late in his visit;
and so he comes running, finds Jesus preparing to leave, throws
himself on his knees before him, and asks him the most important
question of all: 'what
must I do to inherit eternal life?’
responds to him with what might be described as a summary of the Ten
Commandments; and the man replies that he has kept these all
his life. And we may believe that he speaks the truth, for Christ
looks at him and loves him. This is more than simply the love that
God has for all of his creatures; this, I think, is our Lord
responding on a human level to a man who not only has tried all his
life to be good, but seeks to know what more he must to go to heaven.
this love our Lord has for him is evident to all standing there,
shining forth in the way he gazes upon this man, and is later
remembered and recorded by the evangelist St Matthew as he stands
there watching; or perhaps Jesus shares this with his Apostles as
they are walking down the road later, on the journey whose beginning
the man interrupted. But we can be certain that the Son of God
loved this man in a special way and that the answer he gave him was
the one he needed to hear in order that he might inherit that eternal
life he so earnestly sought.
the answer he receives shocks him: ‘You
lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the
poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’
And he goes away grieving. Why grieving? Remember what his question
was – what must I do to inherit eternal life. And Jesus, the good
teacher, tells him that there is one thing more that he must do, as
well as all the rest he does already, if he is to enter into eternal
life. And he can not do it; he can not give up the material things of
will this man not inherit eternal life? He seems to be a good
man; we know he keeps the commandments; and we can trust that a man
who does that, who is a faithful Jew, does more as well. He surely
gives alms to the poor; and is scrupulous about the paying of tithes.
By any objective standpoint he is a good man; and yet, because of the
one thing he lacks, he will not, it seems, go to heaven. Why should
this be so?
Because, I think, he makes the mistake – a mistake that is common today – of
thinking of religion as being an ethical system. That is a common
error, even today. How many times have your heard someone say
something like 'why do I need religion to lead a good life? I can
make perfectly fine moral and ethical decisions without any need to
believe in any kind of god.' And that is perfectly true – although,
it must also be said that one need only look at the competing ethical
systems at play in the secular world today to realise that seemingly
any kind of behaviour can be justified if one puts one's mind to it.
No, the point is that Christianity is not merely yet another ethical
system among many.
it expects people to behave in a manner that is moral according to
the lights of its teachings; but it expects more than that – far
more. If it did not, then the rich man we read about today
would have had no problem. But the Christian is called not only to be
good, but to holiness of life. Think what the Apostle Paul teaches us
in first Thessalonians – he asks that God make us perfect in
holiness. Think about what God tells us in Leviticus – be holy as I
what is holiness? There are many long answers, but a short one would
be to be set apart from the world and totally devoted to God. Using
that, we can see the difficulty faced by the rich man. Yes, he was
good, as the world defines good; but he could not set himself apart
from the world. His possessions meant too much to him; and because of
that he could not bring himself to devote himself entirely to God by
following Christ. This was the 'one thing' he lacked; and even for
the sake of eternal life, he could not bring himself to embrace it.
of us? Must we give up all things to enter into eternal life? Not
necessarily. Jesus spoke directly to the man that day, to his
specific needs. Perhaps he would say something different to you if
you were to throw yourself on your knees before him and ask the
question that poor young man asked that day: Good teacher, what must
I do to inherit eternal life?' Perhaps it is something that you
should do, every time you pray, morning, noon, and night. We can be
sure that as you make your request he will look upon you with love,
and seek to tell you what it is that you lack. Perhaps it would be as
well to pray also that you will not be brought to grief by his
answer, because you can not, like the man, find it within
yourself to let go of what it is that stands between you and
following Christ completely.
and Eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to him be all Glory,
both now and unto ages of ages: Amen.
What is humility? One way for the Christian to think of it as accepting that anything they wish to do in life that does not accord with the will of God, as revealed to us in his Sacred Scriptures and the Holy Traditions and teachings of the Church He established, is sinful and therefore to be put from our minds. They are certainly not to be acted upon. Total submission to the will of God in all things – that is humility. Is that how you lead your life? Is it even your goal as to how you should live?
Some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.’ Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven.
Luke 11. 15,16
Reflection Do not be discouraged when there are those who call the Gospel message evil or challenge you to provide extraordinary proofs of its truth. For they did the same even before the face of Christ himself.
‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.'
Luke 11. 9
Reflection Christ taught us to persevere in prayer, for God will surely answer us. Sometimes, however, we may not like His answer. What we desire is not given us; or the pain continues. Perhaps then what we are to pray for is the strength to endure.