Mk 10:17-27 What Must I Do?
I have a little joke I wish to share with you. I heard it at a dinner a few nights ago. A pope and a lawyer died on the same day and both made it to heaven. St. Peter greeted them and escorted them to their living quarters. St. Peter showed the Holy Father his new home. It was a simple, modest home. The Pope looked at it and was very grateful. Then he took the lawyer to his new home. It was a mansion! The lawyer was shocked to see such an enormous home. He thought that maybe there had been a mistake. St. Peter reassured him. It was no mistake. The lawyer asked, "How can this be, why me? After all, I am just a lawyer." St. Peter replied, "We have many popes in heaven. You are the first lawyer."
I can only imagine what Christ’s facial expression must have been when he heard this young man call out to him, "teacher". I am sure it is similar to my facial expression when I am pulled over by the police, for some minor traffic violation, and the officer calls me sir rather than father! It is a look that says, “This is not going to go well.”
This unknown man, who ran to Jesus and yet still had miles to go - whose name is forever hidden from man, placed in the unfortunate category of would be followers, lost the greatest race ever by never starting the race. He did not care to know Jesus. He was content with knowing him as his “teacher.” His single answer to Christ’s questions is bogus, “I have done all these things since my youth.” Anyone who has taught children knows well how kids will answer their teacher’s questions only to stump him. This young man still considers the world his playground.
I know I might be sounding a little harsh. After all, maybe he didn’t have a vocation. Of course this is nonsense. The Lord does not call only to revoke his call. How many times, in my ten years of formation, did I almost turn my back on the Lord? Too many. The vocation is a gift from God, but in order for a gift to be truly a gift, it must be accepted. Even God’s gifts must be freely accepted. Today's Gospel is an example of a gift being rejected.
What must I do? Here is the million dollar question! The answer is, I must tear down the walls I have worked hard to put up. A mighty fortress am I! But it is all built on sand.
I will give this young man some credit. He asked a question that not even the Lord’s disciples asked, or had the courage to ask. The rich young man asked it but was not ready for the answer. Am I ready for the answer? Enough of this, what must I do? I must strip myself of my possessions before the Lord does it for me.
In this particular case, we have the problem of money – of wealth, of possessions. There are four walls that surrounded this man (and that surround us too) and they must come down.
First wall: Money will make you happy.
Second wall: Money will give you more security.
Third wall: Money will bring you peace.
Fourth wall: Money will help you get ahead.
What did he have? What was he so attached to? Compared to today, he had nothing. What were his possessions? A donkey? A mud floor? A grass roof? I am sure he smelled like the rest and with lice in his hair too (they all had it back then). Today, he would be considered a poor man, one of the poorest. With all his wealth we can honestly say that he possessed nothing, took nothing and was worth nothing. Money yields a false sense of power and greatness. We must never forget that he had the chance, the invitation, to follow the greatest man ever, the Lord himself, the King of Kings and he couldn’t do it.
Worst of all, he walked away crushed, crushed by the weight of his possessions. He left sad. His face fallen. His smile gone. Not even the Commandments can put a smile on someone’s face. Only Christ can do that.
Lent is approaching. It is a time of stripping, stripping ourselves before the Lord does it for us. It is not a matter of "if" but of "when".