By Adam Stubitsch
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[a]”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words.
But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man, this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.
The Gospel story regarding the rich man and Jesus is an increasingly relevant tale on which to reflect. Its anti-materialistic message contrasts quite starkly with the consumer-driven society we live in today. Jesus elaborates that following the Ten Commandments is not enough to truly be one with God and enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Rather, only by giving up our material possessions will the holy gates be opened for us. This request can seem impossible to achieve, but as with many of Jesus’ teachings, it challenges us to look deep inside ourselves and uncover what is most important in our lives.
Jesus implies that the rich and poor are distinguished by what they choose to value. A rich man’s primary concern is to make himself look better compared to everyone else, and society convinces him to demonstrate his worth by buying the fanciest cars and the biggest houses, so to speak; however, that rich man will never fully appreciate the gravity of his purchases, as his abundance of wealth allows him to take his comfortable life for granted. Meanwhile, a poor man owns next to nothing, but he places a far greater worth on every item he does possess. Without the distracting abundance of physical objects, he can prioritize his relationship with God above all else and turn his attention to taking care of his loved ones.
This Gospel teaches us that by separating ourselves from our physical belongings, we are freed of the notion that material objects will make us happy, and in doing so, we open ourselves to God and remember to care for those most in need of our love. Jesus’ message is not just about stifling our obsession with buying more things; it also indicates a shift in how we should assign value to what we already have.