A reflection on the readings for Sunday, October 10, 2021 — The Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Imagine a young person who is aspiring to be a professional athlete suddenly spots a famous sports star down the street. Chances are that the young person, spotting an opportunity to meet this famous athlete, is going to be filled with excitement; and, if given the chance to talk with the athlete, the young person is going to ask questions, among them: what do I have to do? How can I become great like you?
While this analogy is imperfect, it’s similar to what we see in this Gospel today. The rich young man had obviously heard about Jesus. It’s clear that he believes Jesus is more than just another teacher. He may even believe that he is the Messiah. His heart tells him that Christ can show him not only how to live in this life, but, more importantly, how to live so that he may gain eternal life. Seizing this opportunity to meet him, he runs to Jesus and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
This man had a good and holy desire, a desire that each of us has in the depths of our hearts: to inherit eternal life. And, from all accounts, the rich man had lived a good life. He told Jesus that he had indeed kept the commandments. But if one is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, it entails so much more than simply following the commandments.
To be a disciple of Christ is not simply about following rules and obligations. Yes, of course we must live the commandments; that goes without saying. But we cannot minimize Christian discipleship to simply following the commandments. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ means, first and foremost, surrendering our lives to the Lord who loves us, living in intimate friendship with him, and allowing him to use us to spread his love, to spread his kingdom. When we surrender our lives to the Lord, we then live the commandments out of love not solely out of obligation.
The Gospel reading tells us that “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Jesus is the Word of God, his gaze penetrates “soul and spirit, joints and marrow,” as we heard in today’s second reading (Heb 4:12-13). When we open ourselves to the loving gaze of Jesus, it awakens within us a deep desire to give ourselves completely to him. The loving gaze of Jesus awakens within us a desire to be fully the person God created us to be, to be saints. God did not create us to be mediocre. God did not create us to be complacent. God created us to be holy, and holiness begins by surrendering ourselves to Jesus.
This is what Jesus desired for that young man. He wanted him to realize that following him meant completely surrendering to Jesus not just legalistically keeping the commandments. And it is in that surrender that we experience true freedom and happiness. Unfortunately, the rich man did not accept our Lord’s invitation. We don’t know if he ever came back to follow Jesus. We can certainly hope he did.
We do know this: Jesus looked upon him and loved him. Jesus gazed into this man’s soul and saw his desire for greatness, saw his desire to live in and for the Kingdom of God. But the man was not ready to surrender his life to the Lord because he was too attached to his possessions. He was afraid to let go.
What about you and me? Are we willing to surrender ourselves to Jesus? Are we willing to go beyond a legalistic living-out of our faith and begin to live a faith that is infused with love for the Lord and for others? To do this, we must be willing to let go of our attachments.
Jesus may not be calling you to give up all of your possessions, but he is calling each one of us to give up our attachment to sin, to give up our attachments to anything that keeps us from deepening our friendship with him, and then to follow him with all our hearts.
In Pope Benedict XVI’s first homily as pope, reflecting on the legacy of Pope St. John Paul II, he said: “Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom?… No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.”
Today, decide to go beyond living your faith out of a mere sense of duty and obligation; decided to surrender yourself to Jesus. For, as Pope Benedict said, “Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.”
Image: By Andrey Mironov – Own work http://artmiro.ru/photo/religija_zhanrovaja_kartina/esli_khochesh_byt_sovershennym_kh_m_2010/4-0-728, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33820221