This gospel causes us to look at our love relationships – all four of them – our relationship with God, with ourselves, with each other and with the world we live in.
When God created us these four relationships were places of harmony and communion, a paradise. By the sin of Adam they became more like boggy swamps. But when you come to think of it, we have nowhere else to go; they are where we live, they are our home. The best we can do, with the help of God, is to try with all our heart to redeem them.
At the very least, just being able to name them is immensely helpful. They constitute the battleground on which we all must struggle if we are to find true peace for ourselves and for society. All our spiritual energy must be directed at getting things right with God, with others, with ourselves and with the material world.
The gospel today introduces us to a man who is clearly in the midst of this struggle.
The story is simple enough. He runs up to Jesus, kneels before him and asks a question. He runs up and kneels before him. This tells us a lot about him. He is enthusiastic, reverent, and honours the Lord. It is clear that already he knows and loves him to a certain extent. He has recognised that Jesus is Master and that a master has rights and so he asks him what he must do to get to heaven: Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
It’s a great question which not everyone is capable of asking. I can well imagine that the opening lines of the reading from the book of Wisdom would have applied to this man: I prayed, and understanding was given me; I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me. Something had begun to move in this man, the stirrings of a desire for spiritual life, a desire to bring his relationships into a proper order.
He had obviously already made significant progress. Together with his great love for God this man showed great love for his neighbour. When Jesus answered his question: ... You must not kill; You must not commit adultery; You must not steal; You must not bring false witness; You must not defraud; Honour your father and mother’ the man was able to look Jesus in the eye and say: Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days.
How many people would have been able to respond as that man did? His simple, honest answer portrays a goodness which I for one would not have dared to claim. No wonder Jesus: looked steadily at him and loved him. The man before him was undeniably ‘a just man’.
But there was one thing he lacked. There was still one of the four relationship he had not yet succeeded in bringing into harmony with the other three. Do you see which one it was? Yes, it was the last one – his relationship with the material world.
Jesus uncovered it for him: There is one thing you lack. Then he gave the remedy: Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven... .
Lest the man think he would be losing out Jesus immediately offers him the greatest vocation he could offer anyone here on this earth, the pearl of great price. He says: come, follow me.
The man is sad, his face fell at the invitation. He was a wealthy man and he loved his wealth very much, too much. His relationship with the material world was still out of kilter with his other three relationships so that, probably without realising it, and despite his goodness, he had put God in a subordinate position to his wealth.
The man’s goodness had not grasped the paradox that the only way to perfection was to submit to the word of God which would not take second place. He had discovered the limits of his love, He had discovered that he was not really free to follow Jesus on his way to the kingdom. No wonder he was sad.
Of course, we do not know how the story ended. We have every reason to hope that once this young man adjusted to the shock of Jesus’ radical demand he might have thought better of it and found the grace to say that difficult yes. Perhaps it was the words of the book of Wisdom which opened his eyes?
I prayed, and understanding was given me;I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.I esteemed her more than sceptres and thrones;compared with her, I held riches as nothing.I reckoned no priceless stone to be her peer,for compared with her, all gold is a pinch of sand,and beside her silver ranks as mud.