“A man ran up, knelt down before Jesus, and asked him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” Like all of us, the man in this Sunday’s Gospel was yearning for more in his life. It seems he had considerable wealth, yet his question to Jesus reveals that material wealth had not brought him the fulfillment he sought. Jesus acknowledges the man’s yearning by saying to him, “You lack one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
The Gospel indicates that this man was striving to live a good life; in fact, he tells Jesus that he’s lived the commandments his whole life. But Jesus wanted him to be more than good; he wanted him to be holy. We might, then, interpret the young man’s question to Jesus in this way: “Jesus, how can I live this desire for holiness that is deep within my heart?” The answer that Jesus gives to us is the same he gave to the rich man: We must be detached from material wealth and attached to him.
Jesus doesn’t outright condemn material wealth. He does say, however, that it can be an obstacle to entering eternal life. For many, wealth is the god that they worship. The point of this Gospel is that if we’re not striving to be holy, if we’re not striving to become more attached to Christ and less attached to things, then we will easily slide further into spiritual mediocrity. And what happens when we slide further into mediocrity is that we allow other things to replace God in our lives. We become more attached to possessions or self-image than we become to God.
The question that the rich young man asks Jesus reveals the deepest longing of every human heart: the desire for moral greatness and the desire to live eternally. This desire, when misdirected, is what leads people to mid-life crises, endless cosmetic surgeries, and the constant accumulation of material goods. However, when properly directed, the desire for moral greatness and eternal life is what leads people to become saints.
The bottom line is that Jesus wants us to be “all in” when it comes to living the Christian life. He doesn’t want us to live a bland Christianity, one that settles for getting by on the minimal requirements. No, he wants us to become more and more empty of ourselves and more and more filled with his life. When we become more selfless we desire to bring his love and presence to others. We eagerly respond to his call to “sell everything and give to the poor,” that is, we become less attached to things and more attached to spreading his Kingdom.