And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
For a number of years we have sent a few of our high school and college-aged young people to Saint Michael’s Conference for a week in August. Included in that number are some of our parishioners who have volunteered to serve on the staff of that conference. At this teaching conference the young people take three one-hour courses. The courses vary each year and about four or five years ago one of the electives was titled “Who are You When No One is Looking?” It is an engaging title, and even though I did not teach the course, I suspect its content had much to do with honesty. I think it meant mostly how you present yourself to God. Are you honest with yourself and with God? The students probably learned that they cannot hide their inmost thoughts, feelings, and sins, no matter how small or large. There is no hiding from God. It’s good for all of us to know that nothing can be kept from God’s all-knowing self. We learn that He is omniscient. So, the course probably had much to do with the truly intimate side of connection we have with God our Creator. To find out, the students taking the course probably had to learn how to be completely honest.
Honesty for most of us means putting forward the truth and knowing the truth when it confronts you. It means not denying anything about the way things are and the way we are. In contemporary psychological terms; being a “real” person. Many falsely think that to be a “real” person in contemporary society we should be open and honest with everyone. Some popular psychologists, counselors, and now I understand, life coaches, maintain that suppressing our feelings will only lead to repressed anger, or developing an alternate way to be “real” and therefore not be honest. When this advice and counsel are pushed and put into practice they can actually be damaging. Let’s face it, do you want people to be completely honest with you all time? Do you really want them to tell you their inmost and immediate thoughts at any given time? When put into practice this could be devastating. I don’t want to know what’s on people’s minds all the time. I don’t want them to tell me exactly what they’re thinking and feeling at a given moment. They don’t want to know what I’m thinking and feeling all the time. It would be horrible to have complete honesty and openness all the time.
I have witnessed someone whom I think was truly an honest and open person. He was “real”. Father Caldwell, who is now in Glory, was a retired, part time assistant at the last parish I served. He was mature, scholarly, friendly, and truly honest. He seemed to have reached an age where his love of people and his Lord just came through by working with him and witnessing how he associated with those around him. He loved working in our parish that had a large parochial school and enjoyed being with the more than five hundred children each day. One day there was to be a big performance of a student organization event at the School. Everyone, including the headmaster and the entire staff, as well as the student body and parents, was excited for the performance and I’m sure assumed there was not a person alive at that time who would not make every effort to attend. The headmaster asked our Father Caldwell if he would be attending the performance and Father Caldwell said, “No”. The incredulous headmaster asked why he would not be attending such an attractive and exciting time for the children and Father Caldwell paused and then said, “Because I don’t want to.” There was no upset, no disbelief, no great reaction on the part of the headmaster. Father Caldwell told the truth and told the truth in a way that just seemed natural. Father Caldwell was one who was “real” and simply spoke the truth in love and it came through that way to his hearers. He was not going to go because he honestly just did not want to go. It was so refreshing to hear. I wondered would I ever get to the point where that kind of honesty could be part of who I am. I hope so.
We do well to open our hearts and minds to those with whom we have trust. Openness and honesty need to be reserved for those who truly care and love us. It is a very sensitive and delicate time in your life to reveal your inmost thoughts and feelings to someone. This should only be done to those who truly care for you. We can live well with one another if we choose carefully with whom we will be “real”. With most people, if we’re going to live well with them, we will have to suppress some of our immediate thoughts and feelings. We cannot go around telling our immediate desires and thoughts to anyone. Those with whom we have built a deep level of trust will be able to receive our inmost thoughts and feelings and it is with them that we may be able to be “real”.
In this episode in Jesus’ ministry of the rich, young ruler, it seems to me that we can learn that there is and can be complete honesty and openness with Jesus. The openness and honesty are there whether we like it or not. This is powerful to know and it must have made a powerful impression on those disciples who were there because the story stayed with them and appears in all three synoptic gospels. It would tend to remain in the mind when someone clearly sees down into the condition of your soul, or forces you to look deeply into your true standing with God Almighty. That is happening in this scene. Jesus is looking right down into the rich, young ruler’s soul and forcing him to look there too.
You can tell that Jesus wants him to go further and deeper in his spiritual life because Jesus makes the rich, young ruler look at his complete spiritual connection with God and not just his connection with his neighbor. If you read the Gospel carefully, there are two ways that Jesus forces the questioner to look at where he stands with God. One is that Jesus tries to get the man to see that Jesus has the goodness of God. The man asks, …Good Teacher, what must I do inherit eternal life? And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.’ The man does not make the connection that if God is good, and Jesus is being called good, then Jesus must be on equal authority with God; and He is. The other way that Jesus forces the issue so the man has to see where his heart is with God, is to look at the four commandments that Jesus does not list when Jesus tells him to keep the commandments and the responsibilities they bring upon him.
Notice that Jesus lists all the commandments that have to do with the rich, young ruler’s obligations to his neighbor and not the ones having to do with his obligations to God. We learn in confirmation classes that the first four commandments have to do with our duties to God and the last six have to do with our duties to our neighbors. Notice Jesus lists only those duties to the rich, young ruler’s neighbors. As the young man says, all these I have observed from my youth. Jesus knows that. Now Jesus has him dig even more deeply and do something about his duty to God and to do that the rich, young ruler will have to give more of his own life, his own goods. He will be forced to put his spiritual life and obligations to God first, even before anything that he has in this world. That is what it takes to inherit eternal life.
The key here is to not miss the reason Jesus is making him look more deeply into his duties to God. Jesus makes him do this out of love. Then Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing; sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ The rich, young ruler had been faithful to his duties to those around him, and now he had to reach farther and place his heart and soul completely in the hands of God. The love of Christ demanded it because that needs to be a priority. He was getting there, and Jesus was making him have his first love be God, and not those things that may be holding him back like his possessions.
The giving of heart, mind, body and soul to God through the love and grace of Jesus Christ needs to happen. The Scriptures and the Church call this self-giving. It is sacrificial love and the rich, young ruler, like the rest of us, needs to show forth that kind of love on his way to heaven because that’s what will get him and us into heaven and eternal life. I think we learn today that it can happen in two ways. We show forth the kind of life that the Ten Commandments demand and come to the conclusion that we cannot do that without the grace of God. That grace ultimately saves us. The other way is to have the grace of God first control our lives, and as a result, show forth the kind of life that is written in the Ten Commandments. Either way, we are ultimately dependent on the love and grace of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and our whole selves, souls and bodies are given to Him.
It is the grace of God that saves and binds us to Him. Nothing should hold us back from that. The rich, young ruler was shown that by Jesus. We need to be imbued with His help and presence in everything. His grace needs to be before us and after us and in us if we are to be a complete follower. Didn’t we pray that at the beginning of this Mass? Lord, we pray thee that thy grace may always precede and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works… We are asked to lay ourselves open to God. He knows who we are when no one is looking. We need to be at the place where He discerns that our wills are the same as His. When that happens, we will have a life that has Christ in every aspect of it. Our joys, our blessings, our sufferings, and persecutions will all be offered to Him and who we are will be faithful disciples of Christ. Even when no one is looking.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.