2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: The Rich Young Man (Mt 19:16-26)
16And there was a man who came to him and asked, “Master, what good deed must I do to possess eternal life?” 17Jesus said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is one alone who is good. But if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18He said, “Which?” “These:” Jesus replied, “You must not kill. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not bring false witness. 19Honour your father and mother, and: you must love your neighbour as yourself.” 20The young man said to him, “I have kept all these. What more do I need to do?” 21Jesus said, “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22But when the young man heard these words he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.
23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you solemnly, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Yes, I tell you again, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” 25When the disciples heard this they were astonished. “Who can be saved, then?” they said. 26Jesus gazed at them. “For men,” he told them, “this is impossible; for God everything is possible.”
2. 1- Explanation
The Gospel passage of today speaks of a rich young man (Mt 19:16-22) and the teaching of Jesus to his disciples about the dangers of wealth (Mt 19:23-26).
The passage begins with a basic and crucial question commonly asked: What good things must I do to be worthy of eternal life? The question is a sincere and sound desire of enthusiastic youth, since youth is the period in one’s life when one begins to build a lifetime project. Jesus’ answer is to keep the commandments of love.
Today’s man cannot bear being given orders, so he risks distancing himself from all external obligations and rules. This is the result of the various psycho-social sciences focusing on one’s ego and innermost desires, allowing everyone to evolve according to the principle of freedom. However, the theological framework within which we find the Ten Commandments guarantee moral thinking for today’s world also, transmitting profound words, inestimable values for the good of man. These values are as follows:
- Awareness of the omnipresence of God and His action in the world;
- Giving value to the sacred dimension of time and harmonizing work and rest;
- Exhorting spouses to nurture a stable relationship with each other and ensuring solidarity among family members
- Honouring the right to life and its dignity;
- Respecting people and their property
These values entail certain rights that fall within the realm of legal terms:
- The right to a ‘religious’ relationship with God;
- The right to respect beliefs and religious symbols;
- The right to religious practices;
- The right to rest and the choice of quality of life;
- The right of the family and its members;
- The right to life from beginning to end;
- The right of personal property; etc, etc.
The rich young man had obviously no problem in keeping the commandments, but his heart was attached to riches and money. In this, he was more focused on the social commandments (the second part of the Ten Commandments), than on the first three commandments on God’s love. The young man might have lived his social life well, but he made his wealth an ultimate goal, and as a result, he did not put his hope in God. Jesus wants the Kingdom of Heaven to be a top priority for every believer, with other concerns (family, financial, lifestyle) coming second. St Paul says: “If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, and if I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever.” (1 Cor 13:3).
The call to the rich young man to follow Christ was in vain, but it was an opportunity to teach the disciples a lesson about the danger of wealth, that makes one a slave to it. God, in fact, created man to be free, alive in his grace, and using money and property as a means and not as an end.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
The call to the rich young man to follow Jesus shows that the rich are not excluded from the kingdom of God “by default”. Wealth is not a barrier to entry, but it can be a danger that people need to understand and overcome in order to access the Kingdom. What matters to God is that we head in the right direction that guides our hearts and gives meaning to our lives. “Business” with God is always beneficial; indeed, Jesus said earlier that some seeds sown in good soil would yield “some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Mt 13:8, 23). When we get rid of everything, God makes us richer with His grace. When we trust in His providence, we win much more than when we rely on human guarantees. There is a story about a little girl who, once dead, went with her doll to Heaven; she wanted to enter with her toy. But St Peter prevented her from entering with it and she began to cry very loudly. The Virgin Mary then came, took her by the hand and brought her in with her doll. However, the young girl was so attracted by the beauty of Heaven and the overwhelming love of God that she dropped the doll. The moral of this story is that we should let our hearts be drawn by what is heavenly and spiritual, and gradually we will realise that everything earthly and worldly is useless.