And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!" (Mk 10:21-23).
This week's Gospel is from St. Mark, 10:17-30.
By coming to Jesus with his problem this man has done all Christians a good turn. We have learned from Christ's answer that over-attachment to worldly goods is one of the big obstacles to entering heaven. The man in this story was a good-living man, he kept all the commandments from his youth upward and he had an interest in eternal life, while many of his compatriots of that day had not. Reading this man's heart like an open book, Christ saw that not only was he fit for eternal life but that he was one who could have a very high place in heaven if he would leave everything and become a close follower of his. Not only would he become a saint, but he would lead many to sanctity.
The price to pay for this privilege, however, seemed too high to this "good man." "He had great possessions" and he was too attached to them so he could not accept Christ's offer, "his countenance fell and he went away sorrowful." Although his case was exceptional, Christ saw in him the makings of a saint and he asked him to make an exceptional sacrifice, one which he did not and does not ask of all his followers; his remark to the disciples later: "how hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God" holds for all time and for all mankind.
This statement of Christ, however, does not mean that a follower may not possess any of this world's goods. He may possess and use those goods, but what he must not do is to allow them to take such a hold on him that he has no time for acquiring everlasting goods— the Christian virtues. Unfortunately, there are Christians whose whole purpose in this life is the accumulation of worldly goods. Concentration on such accumulation is wrong, but in many cases the methods of acquisition are unjust: defrauding laborers of their just wages; overcharging customers; cheating in business deals; giving false measures and many other devices which produce unearned wealth.
All this is far from Christian justice, and those who have let such sinful greed to regulate their lives are certainly not on the road to heaven. There are other sins, of course, which can keep us from heaven, but of all the sins a man can commit this irrational greed for the wealth of this world seems the most unreasonable of them all. How utterly inane and foolish to have spent a lifetime collecting something from which we shall soon be parted forever! The rich man's bank-book and his gilt-edged shares will be not only valueless in the after-life but they, if unjustly acquired, will be witnesses for the prosecution at the judgment on which one's eternal future depends. While most of us are not guilty of such excessive greed for wealth, we all do need to examine our consciences as to how we acquire and use the limited wealth we have. There are very rich men who have acquired their wealth honestly and justly and who spend much of their wealth on charitable causes. Their wealth will not hinder them from reaching heaven. On the other hand, there are many in the middle and lower-income bracket who may be offending against justice through the means they use to acquire what they have, and in the little helps which they refuse to a needy neighbor. We may not be able to found a hospital for the poor or pay an annuity to support the family of a disabled fellow workman, but we are not excused from bringing a little gift to our neighbors who are in hospital, or from supplying even part of a meal for the dependants of the injured workman.
Remember that Christ praised the widow who put a mite (a cent) into the collection box for the poor in the temple area, and he also said that a cup of cold water given in his name would not go without reward. We need not be rich in order to be charitable; often our own exaggerated sense of our poverty can make us hard-hearted and mean toward our fellowmen who look to us for help. The true Christian, whose principal purpose in life is to serve God, will not overburden himself with unnecessary pieces of luggage; instead, he will travel light and be ever ready to help others also to carry their burdens.
May your grace, O Lord, we pray, at all times go before us and follow after and make us always determined to carry out good works.