Tuesday, November 22, 2011

if you wish to be perfect ...

The rich young man in today's Gospel reading asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus refers him to the commandments. I have always kept these, says the young man: what do I still lack? And Jesus tells him that if he wishes to be perfect he must sell what he has, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. The young man goes away grieving, because he has many possessions.

 Is this story really about wealth? The young man tells Jesus that he keeps all the commandments ... does he think that he does so perfectly - that he is in fact already perfect? Is what he is really doing is pushing Jesus to say that he need do no more, that he is already perfect, that he already has earned eternal life?

In which case Jesus' answer is designed to puncture his bubble of smugness. Having pushed Jesus to tell him what more he must do, he can not accept the answer. When faced with the choice between eternal life and material wealth he can not bring himself to choose the former over the latter. He is not perfect. Love of money takes precedence for him over love of God. His keeping of the commandments is a posture, a public show. He does what is easy for him to do, but can not bring himself to make any real sacrifice.

The young man goes away grieving because he was not only fooling the world, but fooling himself. Jesus has shown him where his true priorities are, what he is really like, and he doesn't like it.

There is a lesson for us all here. What are the comfortable pretenses we keep up, before the world and ourselves? What are the easy, public virtues we display, while the truth is that there is much of this world that is more important to us than loving God and following his Son?

In truth, most of us, unless we are perfect, living saints, have more in common with the rich young man than we like to believe. But I pray that none of you make the mistake of the young man - unable to face the truth about himself, he turns away and does not follow Jesus. I pray that you, and I, and all God's children, imperfect as we are, will continue in our own stumbling and frail way, remembering the love that God has for us and trusting in his Grace, to always follow his Son. Amen.

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