August 18, 2014
Today’s gospel: Matthew 19:16-22
We all desire to make it to heaven, “to gain eternal life” (v.16b). What must we do? Jesus says, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (v.17b). We are to obey God and His ways. What this does is it makes us good persons who will make it to heaven.
But Jesus desires more for us. The rich young man desired more too. He said to Jesus, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” (v.20). He sensed there was more. And he was right. Beyond goodness, beyond obedience to God’s commands, beyond growing in holiness, there is perfection.
Jesus then said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (v.21). What constitutes perfection, beyond keeping God’s commandments?
First, total detachment. This can be literal, as in the case of St Francis of Assisi, who gave up everything he had, including the very clothes on his back. For most of us, it means complete detachment from material things. We can own and use things, but we can let go at any moment. We live simple lives. We do not indulge in wants.
Second, justice to the poor. Poverty is due to sin (no, not of the poor, but of the rich). God created a bountiful world, with enough for all. Poverty is the antithesis of how it should be in the Kingdom of God on earth. The poor then are entitled to some of the goods that we possess. We are stewards of these goods, intended by God to be used by us for the good not just of ourselves but of others. We give to the poor what is their due.
Third, following Jesus. This is not just by being a Christian, but a total and wholehearted commitment to him. It is being willing to sacrifice anything for his cause. It is walking his path of holiness. It is being totally focused on the mission entrusted to us by the Father. It is following him all the way to the cross.
Do you wish to be perfect? Actually, while perfection remains as our option (we can make it to heaven by being good), Jesus does want us to be perfect. He said, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48). Jesus loves us so much that he wants the ultimate for us. He wants us not only with him in heaven, but he wants us to have treasure in heaven.
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“When the young man heard this statement, he want away sad, for he had many possessions.” (v.22). Why is the giving away of everything so important for perfection? It is because of a fundamental reality: “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Mt 6:24). Mammon or wealth is a possessive master. Its tendency is to draw us away from God, or at the very least, restrain us from going deeper into God’s embrace.
This is why Paul warns us about desiring wealth. “Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tm 6:9-10a). What is the antidote? “If we have good and clothing, we shall be content with that.” (1 Tm 6:8). Have a simple lifestyle. Do not pursue more and more.
Or better yet, sell what you have and give to the poor.
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God bless you.
“For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” (Phil 1:21)
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