What Keeps You From Him? A Lesson From the Rich Young Man

Saints are not born, they are made. 

There are countless examples of saints who experienced deep conversions that radically changed their lives. St. Augustine struggled with chastity and the truth of the Church, St. Paul persecuted Christians, and St. Matthew exploited his fellow Jews as a tax collector. What made the difference for them was an encounter. What changed was their willingness to place their whole lives on the table before Jesus and offer him everything. 

Are there any words of Jesus that we turn our back on? Are there any teachings of the Church that we simply write off as irrelevant, too much or too difficult. The young rich man (Mt 19:16-22) serves as one of the only examples in the Gospels of an individual who is called by Christ to follow him, but who denies the invitation. 

There is always a need to internally investigate the status of our relationship with God. This dissection of the soul is something that must continually take place because it is something that Jesus consistently does with his disciples. 

An insincere faith is wrapped up with convincing oneself that you have it all together. That faith is concerned with accomplishing tasks like prayer, attending Mass, and being nice to others. Christ, however,  never asks us to settle because a relationship with him demands everything. We ought to listen to his words, follow his commands, and love like him but ultimately faith is not what we do but what we are willing to give to be with Jesus. 

The main question from the rich man is how does one obtain the heavenly reward and enter eternal life? Like a good teacher, Jesus begins with the basics of the 10 Commandments. The rich man admits that he has kept all of these – he wants to know what else he has to do. One may question how a youthful man, or any person of any age, could possibly be so confident in claiming that they perfectly follow the commandments, but let’s take him at his word.

He clearly knows who Jesus is and is willing to bet his soul on what Christ says. We can wager that he was well on his way on the path to holiness. But, Jesus says he is missing something. He calls the young man, and all of us, to be perfect (Mt 5:48). This is not an inability to mess things up, but a condition of knowing and being close with God. To have that proximity with the Trinity means that the rich man must hold nothing back – he must sell all his wealth.

Perfection lies in realizing and living out the reason for one’s existence. Regardless of the details of one’s life, the purpose of each human life is deep intimacy and union with the living God. The young rich man appears to be confused by Jesus’ call to follow him by leaving everything behind because he has led a life that saw perfection as following rules. He had mistaken faith as a formality rather than a relationship. His possessions were keeping him from radical trust in Christ so they had to go. 

Jesus’ words deeply impact the man, “and he went away sad because he had many possessions” (Mt 19:22). The young rich man’s sadness kicks in immediately because he knows this will be difficult, but even more so, because he knows that he will not be willing to do what Jesus asks of him. There was something inside of him that brought him to Jesus in order to find out the answer to the most important question in life. However, he does a quick 180 degree turn away from Christ once he hears this statement. 

It is a movement that is rushed in its wording. We do not hear that the man heard it and then was sad and then went away. He simply departs in sadness. He does not reflect and he does not give Christ’s invitation a chance to settle in – he simply decides immediately that this is not worth it. His possessions were his non-negotiables instead of his faith. 

If you are like me, there are ways that we are still like Augustine, Matthew and Paul before their conversions. The recipe for becoming like them post-conversion is to accept the invitation that Jesus offers the rich man. 

For us to be perfect, we must give it all over to Jesus, nothing can be left outside of his reach. So, what makes us walk away from him in sadness? Find out what it is, and do an about-face in the opposite direction – running towards the one who is worth following above everything else. 


Image courtesy of Unsplash.

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