Is there something that we must do to inherit eternal life? If so, what is it? In today’s gospel, Jesus answers these questions in a way that should cause us to think about whether these questions are important to consider.
A young man approached Jesus and said,
“Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”
He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good?
There is only One who is good.
If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
He asked him, “Which ones?”
And Jesus replied, “You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
honor your father and your mother;
and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The young man said to him,
“All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”
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.
Jesus first instructs the young man to follow the commandments, but this is not the answer to the question asked. The young man knows this, therefore he asks Jesus what else he must do. When Jesus tells him to sell all he has and become his disciple, the young man is disappointed and goes away sad. Why? Because the young man was looking for a non-sacrificial formula that, if followed, guaranteed the result of eternal life.
The message is more nuanced than we might think, and there is a lesson in it for all of us. Jesus’ message was intended to teach the young man to change his heart, not just his wealth or circumstances. Only through true reformation of heart can we be open to the gospel. Jesus isn’t showing us that wealth is evil. Not all of us are rich or attached to our possessions. Rather, he teaches us that in order to be worthy of eternal life we must change our heart into an engine which will freely give love and mercy and forgiveness.
He wants us to love one another. Are we ready to follow his command?