My Dear Parishioners:
A priest was giving a homily on heaven and hell. At one point, he asked the people: “Is there anybody here who wants to go to heaven? Please stand.” As expected, everybody in the church stood up. Then he asked again: “Who would like to go to hell? Will you please stand?” Nobody moved. But after a short while, the priest’s sacristan, seated in front, very slowly and with much struggle and trepidation, stood up. The priest was surprised: “Abdul, do you want to go to hell?” The sacristan answered, “No, Father.” “Then why did you stand?” the priest asked. He answered, “Father, I can see you are standing alone. Being your sacristan, I have to go wherever you go.”

Everybody wants to go to heaven. The rich young man asked Jesus: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17). He, too, wanted to go to heaven. But in the end, he went away sad. This could be the same case with many of us. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but many may end up like the rich young man – disappointed and sad.

The young man replied to Jesus: “All of these I have observed from my youth.” This is to say that by local standard he was a very religious person. He must have been observing every letter of the law, strictly adhering to the commandments and was meticulous in following all rituals and rubrics of his religion. He was contented with this narrow and shallow understanding of religion. Jesus wasted no time to diagnose his spiritual disease. His ailment: an obsession with the love of the law and deficiency of the law of love. Unfortunately, He was not aware of the ultimate demand of the law of love, which is to give nothing less than everything. Jesus looked at him with love and was brutally frank with him and gave him this tough prescription: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.” He was totally unhappy about what Jesus demanded of him and so he walked away sad, because he had many possessions – properties, money, industries, etc.

He went away sad because he was unwilling to tow the new path, the perfect way of happiness which Jesus was pointing to him. He was so self-sufficient and self-reliant and was reluctant to empty himself and get rid of the weight of wealth. He appeared to be a man who was deeply immersed in piety and orthodoxy but deficient in radical spirituality. His understanding of religion did not include one essential element, which is the spirit of self-sacrifice. He identified himself with his wealth to the extent he could neither sacrifice his life to the service of others, nor renounce his wealth for the benefit of the needy.

The Gospel portrays him as a rich man surrounded by opulence but lacking in the wealth of wisdom.

Invariably, he missed the gift of salvation Christ was offering him. After the rich man walked away, Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God… It is easier for a Carmel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were shell shocked to hear these words from Jesus and they said among themselves, “Then who can be saved?” Was Jesus totally condemning all wealthy people? Not at all! He was sending a serious warning to those who believe more in their wealth more than they believe in God. He was sounding a note of warning about the false sense of security that money gives.

In the world today, the volume of people’s wealth determines their worth of people. For example, we read and hear about someone who is worth 1 million dollars and another who is worth 10 billion dollars. This false measurement of the worth of the human person tends to say that “We are what we have.” Jesus denounces the idea of obsession with possessions. The message of the Gospel is this, perhaps: In this world, it is not what we take up, but what we give up that makes us rich. Jesus was aware of the common sins associated with the rich, which include stinginess, extravagance, ruthlessness, oppression, pride, greed, debauchery, exploitation, insensitivity, and the tendency to attach their self-worth to their wealth. The world tells us get rich and happiness is all yours, but Jesus on the contrary teaches that material affluence does not necessarily translate into happiness. Being wealthy does not equate to being happy.

The rich young man considered gold more than God. He could not set his priorities right. The book of wisdom provides us with a hierarchy of values where it places wisdom as a gift that is over and above material wealth and political power (see Wisdom 7:7-11). The Psalmist prays to God to teach us the shortness of our life so that we can be wise (Psalm 90). In the book of Hebrews (4:12-13) we discover that wisdom is not necessarily found in wealth but in the Word of God, which is alive and active. It is God’s Word that reveals to us the truth about ourselves, it is the Word that helps us to discern the difference between true and false happiness and it is the Word that penetrates the innermost core of the human person, which is the soul. The rich young man is present in each one of us each time we find it difficult to detach ourselves from what we possess and each time we become obsessed with our possessions.

Fr. Monteleone

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