What is something we feel attached to? Something that we wouldn’t want to lose or aren’t willing to give up. Are we attached to our dog or pet? How about to certain clothes or styles? Are we attached to our house or some other big possession? Or maybe we’re attached to a specific lifestyle? Here’s a big one at this time in our country – are we attached to a particular ideology or a political party that we feel we can never betray, even if parts of this ideology or party or politician stand contrary to the teachings of the church? Of course, some of our attachments may even be good in and of themselves. Something like family. How many of us feel quite attached to our families?
Well, today’s Gospel story has a challenging lesson about attachments. It’s warning us to not allow any attachment, no matter how important we may think it is, to get in the way of our pursuit for God and His Kingdom. Surely this isn’t easy, since we may see many of our attachments as fundamental to who we are.
Listen to the story of the rich young man who approaches Jesus and asks a simple, yet profound question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
We can laud the young man for thinking about such a serious and sober question. He approaches this unusual rabbi Jesus who is creating such a stir in Israel. And we can see that he is a faithful person who tries to follow the law of Moses.
When our Lord tells him “If you would enter life keep the commandments” the young man proudly assures Christ that he has kept all the commandments. The man is too sure of himself. Yet, he is still asks for something more. What specific deed must I do, he wonders? The young man seems to be too legalistic in his spirit by thinking that he simply has to do certain things, to check off certain boxes, in order to enter into eternal life.
Of course, our faith is not about legally following certain rules or checking off certain boxes of religious faithfulness. Our faith is all about a living and dynamic relationship, a journey into a never-ending union with God. A relationship can’t be described by rules or commandments. Sure, certain rules and commandments can help create healthy boundaries in a relationship, but the relationship itself will thrive and grow with something beyond rules – with love, devotion, commitment, and passion.
So, Jesus goes beyond any commandments and addresses something to which he can see the young man is attached. “To be perfect, go and sell all you have and give to the poor.”
Jesus looked into the heart of the young rich man and knew right away the attachment he had to his possessions, to his wealth. Money is not evil in and of itself, but the love of money, St. Paul says, is the root of evil. An attachment to wealth and possessions, where one finds their identity in their wealth and possessions is a hindrance to entering the kingdom of heaven. It’s a hindrance because it so easily becomes an idol replacing God.
Today, I want each of us to reflect and think about what could be possible attachments we have that may hinder our relationship with Christ? Do we have any attachments we are not willing to give up, any attachments with which you identify too much? This can be a tough question if we are sincerely honest with ourselves.
Jesus said to the rich young man, “To be perfect sell what you have and give to the poor, and then come, follow me.”
The young man loved his possessions more than he loved the poor; he loved his possessions more than any desire to follow Jesus. Remember, loving the poor means loving God. Putting God first implies loving the poor. Yet this young man walked away sadly.
Jesus sees his worldly attachment and gives an honest assessment about how hard it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. Our wealth tempts us to put our trust in the security of money, instead of putting our trust totally in God. But of course, dangerous attachments don’t just have to do with wealth.
Remember when Jesus told his disciples, “If you love father or mother more than me, son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of me.” Wow! That’s an extremely hard statement. How many people deeply love their families and often think “family first.” They have an unbreakable attachment with their family. Society would surely say this is something good, and yet, Christ warns us that even something good, if it is an attachment stronger than our desire for God, even this good attachment can act as a hindrance in our relationship with God.
Let’s come back to thinking about what your central attachments might be? What are they, honestly? Is it to Money? To certain Possessions? To your reputation and perceived prestige? Or what about for Family? Now one attachment we are seeing very much these days, which can be a very dangerous attachment, is our attachment to whatever our political party is? Or more specifically to a particular politician? Or to a political ideology? And with this last attachment, let us be very careful to not fool ourselves by dressing up this idolatrous political attachment with religious garb, with religious language. No politician represents Christ and no political party represents the Church.
What Jesus is basically saying today to the rich young ruler, and to each one of us, is that if we want to become perfect, if we want to strive for perfection in your life, then we need to lay aside all attachments and put Christ at the center of everything.
Following the commandments are guidelines to help us develop our relationship with God and they can help us draw closer to Him. But only by laying aside our attachments and wholeheartedly following Christ is our path toward perfection.
What must I do to inherit eternal life? “If you would enter life keep the commandments,” Jesus said to the rich young man, “yet to be perfect sell what you have and give to the poor, and then come, follow me.”