28th Sunday of OT Year B:
Today we hear Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man. This is absolutely one of my favorite stories in the whole gospel. Every time I read it, I hear something new, I gain a new insight. The reason I like this passage so much is because it is so real, and I think we can all relate to what is going on here.
The young man in the story is the “basically good person.” He is a good guy, he does the right thing, he follows the commandments. How many people, when asked, would say the same thing: I am basically a good person? One question I always have is: wouldn’t it have been better for this guy if he never went up to Jesus? I mean here he is, a loyal son of Israel, following the commands, living a good life. He only becomes sad after he talks to Jesus. Wouldn’t it be better to just avoid Jesus? How many of us might think the same thing? Maybe some of your family members think this way: I don’t really need to go to Church, I don’t really need all that stuff in my life, I’m basically a good person. Isn’t being good, good enough?
This is a tricky question. Why go to Jesus, why go to Church? If I go to Jesus he will ask me to do something hard. If I go to Jesus I will have to give up my sinfulness. If I go to Jesus he will ask me to sacrifice for others. If I go to Jesus he will ask me for something I am not quite willing to give him. Perhaps it is better to avoid Jesus altogether!
But, we know this is not true. Somewhere deep down there is a sense that being a “basically good person,” is not good enough. Don’t we want to be perfect? Don’t we want to be saints? Don’t we want to be rid of all the emptiness and pain that selfishness and sin can bring? Aren’t we looking for something more? The rich young man in the story was looking for something more, and in Jesus he found it, but he went away sad.
Now it is certainly true that the story intends for us to think that the young man left for good, and perhaps he did. But, I always like to hope that he came back. I always like to hope that while he went away sad, he came back happy, that he sold his things and followed Christ. I would like to think that the desire for holiness and perfection that brought him to Jesus in the first place also led him to make that hard decision, even though it made him sad.
I don’t normally like to talk about myself in the homily, but I think I went through the same thing this man did in my own life. After high school I decided that I never wanted to go to school again (God certainly has a sense of humor because now it seems I never get out of school!). So I started working. I was a manager at Wendy’s for a couple of years, then I started working at a paintball gun factory that my uncle owned. It was a great job. In no time I was making really good money, I had a new car, a new apartment, a big screen TV, I had it all, so to speak. But, then I became an RCIA sponsor, I learned more about my faith, I really started to pray and ask Jesus: what must I do? The answer that I heard was troubling: go become a priest. This scared me. I always thought that I would get married and have kids, being a priest meant being celibate. I liked my job, had nice things, and was making great money, to become a priest meant losing all these things. I enjoyed spending time with my friends, playing sports, and practicing my hard rock guitar, becoming a priest meant going away to seminary where I would meet new people (although I never did give up on that hard rock guitar!). For several months, I went away sad. I felt like I didn’t want to give up all that stuff. But, I finally did apply to the seminary, and I can absolutely say that Jesus means it when he says he will repay a hundred times more. My life is amazing. I don’t make as much money as I once did, but I have everything I need. I am not married, but I have hundreds of kids here at St. Matt’s and at Marian that call me Father. I like this “job” way better than making paintball guns, and I still rock out on my guitar… Going to seminary was a bit scary, but Jesus is never outdone in generosity.
What is he asking of you? You will never know unless you ask. Don’t forget it will not be easy, it might be quite scary in fact. But, listen again to what the gospel says: Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said… Jesus is looking at each one of us, he loves us, he wants nothing but our good. If he asks you to make the hard decision, don’t be afraid to follow him. Don’t go away sad from Jesus, return to him and open yourself to his will.