[Homily. Chapel of the Assumption. Mt. 19: 16-22. 19 August 2019]
Our Gospel today speaks of a rich young man who approaches Jesus and asks, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” (Mt. 19: 16). Because Jesus said, “I have come to bring you life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10), his question might well have been, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain the fullness of life?” This was a man who had much in life; from the course of the conversation we also know that he was a good man. But in posing this question it was clear that he had sensed there was something lacking in his life. He was searching for more. He was searching for the magis.
The rich young man today might be one of the leaders of the Samahan serious about ADDU sui generis leadership, or a graduating student deliberating on what he or she might do after graduation; he might be an instructor needing to make choices about how to better follow the Lord in his or her teaching vocation; he might be a Jesuit or a Jesuit partner-in-mission wrestling today with the Universal Apostolic Priorities; he might even be a young Muslim and a young Christian conversing with each other to discover the meaning of their different faiths in a shared mission of peace in Mindanao.
Teacher, what good must I do to attain the fullness of life?”
Jesus’ immediate response points to the God the Father. “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mt. 19: 17). Understanding the question of the young man well, Jesus was saying, “If you wish to enter into the fullness of life, which is none other than where the One good Father reigns, i.e., the Kingdom of God, you must keep his commandments.”
The young man asked, “Which ones?”
Jesus replied with commandments that pertained to his relationship with other human beings, “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself “ (Mt. 19: 18-19).
“All these I have observed. What do I still lack? “ (Mt. 19: 20), the young man replied.
We know Jesus’ reply, “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” (Mt. 19: 21).
At this, the Gospel says, “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions” (Mt. 19: 22).
The conversation is instructive for us in our desire to live a truly meaningful life.
The young man’s question was about how he could live a truly full life. But it was also about how much he truly desired this.
For us the question may be, what it is in life that we truly desire. In yesterday’s Gospel we heard a statement from Jesus about what he truly desired. He said, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing. There is a baptism with which I am to be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished. Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No I have come to establish division….” (Lk. 12:49-51). Jesus’s desire had essentially to do with his mission. His anguish was that he be able to accomplish it, despite temptations that he struggled with. That was, we know a very deep anguish that in the Garden of Gethsamane became his agony, “Father, not my will, thy will be done!” (Lk 22:42).
So what is it in life that I truly desire as I ask the Lord, “Lord, what good must I do to gain the fullness of life?” The question is not only about what good I must do now to enter a kingdom of fullness in a future heaven.
It is more about what good I must do that the Goodness of God the Father might reign more fully in my life and in my world today. It is a desiring that is deeper than whatever good I may have already done for my neighbor.
Jesus’ reply is, “If you wish to be perfect [if you really desire the fullness of life], go sell what you have [go, free yourselves of your possessions that do not bring you the fullness of life, and in fact often militate against life], give to the poor [from the superfluity of your possessions, help a person in need, or from the superficiality of your life make a genuine contribution to social justice and the common good], and come follow me [make a decision to follow me, to do as I do, to live as I live, to give as I give, to love as I love, to desire as I desire.]” (Lk 10:22). St. Paul said, “Be of the same mind [of the same spirit, of the same desire] as Christ Jesus:
Who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped,
but emptied Himself,
taking the form of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross.
To be obedient as I was obedient: “There is a baptism with which I am to be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished… ” (Lk 12:50), Jesus said.
The rich man went away sad. What Jesus desired was not his desire. St. Ignatius said that when one walks away from Jesus, there is a sadness, a desolation, a sense of loss.
So hearing the story of the rich young man today, gazing at the image of the Crucified Lord gazing at us, we might ask: If you have done this for me in love, Lord,
what must I do to gain the fullness of life?