What must I do to have eternal life? (Mark 10:17)
How many times have we heard this question that the rich young man asks Jesus? How many times have we also asked ourselves the same question, wondering what we need to do to have a more peaceful, more beautiful, trouble-free life?
This rich young man, a commandment-keeper, who we would say today “hurts no one”, who apparently has everything, approaches Jesus to ask Him a question so simple yet so dense with meaning. In the question he asks Jesus, we perceive that he is living a prestigious, full life, yet he feels in his heart a restlessness. He is looking for something that he lacks and he expresses his inner uneasiness to Jesus by asking Him how to have eternal life: that is, a happy, blissful life.
This young man had everything in the world that could be desired, yet an affliction lurked in his soul. His existence, while so enviable, did not in his eyes hold great significance: he lacked something. He had heard since childhood of another life, of an eternal life, a life that is forever, but above all, one that is different from all those experienced in the world. He knew as if by instinct about that life, but did not know how to live it.
This question is marked by the two verbs used by this rich young man: to do and to have. In our society they are used frequently. Doing and having seem to be the ways we achieve happiness, to get everything we want or to be someone; very often we perceive a world that wants us to be perfect, a world where one cannot show one’s human limitations and weaknesses.
Ours is a society that refers to images, idols, a culture made up of models and icons generated by the world of advertising, sports, and entertainment. We live in a society where appearing matters more than being, or rather where being and appearing coincide. Showing but especially showing oneself have become two cornerstones of this new world. Appearance seems to “take over”. The outer image almost completely empties the inner self.
In a society that invites us to be successful, to be first in order to have happiness, Jesus’ response to the rich young man turns that way of thinking and seeking true happiness upside down. Jesus invites the rich young man to sell what he has and follow Him. As we know the rich young man goes away sad after hearing Jesus’ answer. How can we not understand the discomfort of this rich young man? Most likely we too would have gone away sad; maybe all our lives we have tried to accumulate possessions, successes, perfection, always showing the strong and best part of us. Eventually we discover that that does not lead to true happiness.
John Paul II writes:
“It is not just a question here of listening to a teaching and accepting in obedience a commandment. It is a matter, more radically, of adhering to the very person of Jesus, of sharing in his life and destiny, of participating in His free and loving obedience to the Father’s will.”
To seek eternal life means to seek Christ, to learn to love the Lord and embrace His humble and silent way of life. To desire Him and Him alone.
The invitation for us through this scene is to also sell what we have and to follow Jesus. What does it mean to sell what we have? It does not mean selling our house, our car; the Lord’s invitation to selling is something deeper: selling what imprisons us inwardly, what blocks us and does not make us live a blessed life. To entrust to Him our human weaknesses and limitations without letting them crush us but leaving it to Him to transform them.
As I said at the beginning of this reflection, there are two verbs in the rich young man’s question about our lives, to do and to have. From the standpoint of faith, they tell us so much.
Faith is not something to do. God’s love is not something to do but is a relationship to have. With God there are no merits. You cannot earn God’s love. It is a relationship. Sometimes it is being silent, facing Him with our life. The rich young man says, “There is still something I lack.” Yes, because your treasure must be in heaven. Where is your treasure? Where is the attachment of your heart? This changes your way of looking at things.
God is not afraid of our weaknesses. He wants to use them. The Bible is full of examples of how God likes to use imperfect, ordinary people so that they do extraordinary things despite their weaknesses.
St. Paul says:
“Yet we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that it may appear that this extraordinary power comes from God and not from us.” 2 Cor 4:7
As ordinary vessels, we are fragile and defective and break easily, but God will use us if we allow Him to work through our weaknesses.
“I will therefore gladly boast in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I will boast in my weaknesses, in outrages, in difficulties, in persecutions, in distresses suffered for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, it is then that I am strong.” 2 Cor. 12:10
At first glance this makes no sense; we want to be delivered from our weaknesses, not to boast in them them. But boasting here is an expression of faith in God’s goodness. Whenever you feel weak God is reminding you to depend on Him. God gives grace to the humble, but humility is not about belittling oneself or denying one’s strengths, gifts, abilities, but it is about recognizing even weaknesses and letting the Lord inhabit them.
In this month I ask the Lord for the grace to welcome my weaknesses and not to let them discourage me. I want to welcome in my heart the request that Jesus makes to the rich young man: “Go, sell what you have.” I want to “sell” something that crushes me, oppresses me, and prevents me from living a blissful life.
This month’s meditation is by Sr. Francesca.