What would you think of a person like the young man in today’s Gospel who said he had observed all the commandments since he was a young man? Would you have believed him? Wouldn’t you response be “you are a saint” or maybe “you aren’t telling me the whole truth”, but that wasn’t Jesus’ response. The young man had followed the life which he believed he had been taught to follow in his Jewish faith obeying the laws and wealth would follow, as a sign of God’s blessing as predicted. He was shocked when Jesus essentially told him that it wasn’t enough. Wouldn’t you have been shocked as well especially when Jesus said “give it all away”? Would any one of us be willing to sell all we have and give the proceeds to the poor and depend on Jesus for our personal fulfillment, shelter, food and clothing? Some people, like St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast we celebrated last Sunday were eventually willing to do that, but as we know only a small percentage of people are called to that kind of life. Why did Jesus require that of that young man? More than likely Jesus recognized that the young man loved things more than he loved God. Riches were his god and the young man didn’t recognize that he was violating the 1st commandment.
The Jewish scriptures did not, nor still do not include the Old Testament Book of Wisdom, a segment of which is today’s first reading. As a result the young man didn’t have the advantage that we have. The book of Wisdom is one of the seven books which Martin Luther deleted from the Christian scriptures and is now a part of the books known as the deuterocanicals/apocrypha. They are still included in the Catholic Bible. Jesus had the entire Book of Wisdom as a part of his theology and when he saw that the young man didn’t recognize that he had chosen wealth over God. Jesus knew he had to do what he could to change the young man’s mind. Jesus tried to do that by shocking him by giving him an assignment which went against the understanding the man had about what he had to do to have eternal life.
Like Solomon in today’s reading, the young man more than likely had asked God for wisdom and understanding and the answer he had received was the wisdom of this world which would help him accumulate worldly wealth. In contrast the wisdom which Solomon received was spiritual wisdom. Spiritual wisdom is defined in the Book of Wisdom as understanding things as God understands them. That in turn, leads to giving top priority to God over everything else in life.
We aren’t told what happened to the young man after he went away gloomy and sad, but Jesus apparently did get the attention of his disciples because they too, more than likely had been instructed in Jewish theology and what Jesus told them and the young man contradicted what they had been taught. They in turn had asked “How can anyone be granted eternal happiness?” Jesus’ answer to them and to us was that the way to eternal life is to live the spirit of the Commandments and the Beatitudes, and practice the Works of Mercy, then you will be granted eternal life, eternal happiness.
The founder of the Methodist faith, John Wesley, presented Jesus answer to his disciple’s question in a sermon entitled “The Use of Money”. In it he made three simple points:
- Make all the money you can being industrious, clever, hard working, ethical and legal without hurting anyone.
- Save all you can, being frugal, living simply and avoid extravagance.
- Give all you can.
He lived his entire life following these three points and made an equivalent of $30 million, but when he died, he had given all of it away.
Our challenge is to follow the example of Rev. Wesley and combine the worldly and spiritual wisdom which we have received to be granted eternal life and happiness.