Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up,
knelt down before him, and asked him,
"Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good?
No one is good but God alone.
You know the commandments: You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother."
He replied and said to him,
"Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth."
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
"You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
At that statement his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
"How hard it is for those who have wealth
to enter the kingdom of God!"
The disciples were amazed at his words.
So Jesus again said to them in reply,
"Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."
They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves,
"Then who can be saved?"
Jesus looked at them and said,
"For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.
All things are possible for God."
Peter began to say to him,
"We have given up everything and followed you."
Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands
for my sake and for the sake of the gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:
houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands,
with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come."
interesting things are happening in Sunday’s Gospel.
the first paragraph, Jesus encounters a man who wishes to know how he can inherit
eternal life. He asserts that he has followed the law impeccably. Jesus suggests
he needs to do two more things. The first
is to give away all that he has to the poor.
The second is to follow Jesus.
transactional or dualist approach to faith makes quick work of this passage: God
requires that you follow the commandments, give to the poor to improve their economic
circumstances, and finally follow Jesus’ example of going around doing kindnesses
and being humble.
McIntyre turned moral philosophy on its head in his 1981 book, After Virtue, by
pointing out that while modern moral philosophy is almost always about making
the right moral decision in hard cases, in Aristotle’s time, moral philosophy was
about cultivating good moral habits and becoming a habitually good person. Aristotle was not particularly interested in
the moral quandaries modern moral philosophers pose for themselves. Aristotle wanted to know how to be a good,
can be reasonably sure Jesus followed the Aristotelian model. When Jesus tells
anyone to give their money to the poor, it is never to change the economic circumstances
of the poor. Judas thought the opposite
and, after the episode with the nard, he was so scandalized by Jesus’ refusal to connect faith to altruism he betrayed him to his executioners. Jesus is advising the man how to be a whole person.
Part of being a whole person is to keep material possessions in perspective
and, for the truly committed, to cast them off entirely.
does it mean to follow Jesus in this context?
Almost certainly Jesus meant that this man should drop everything and literally
follow Jesus in an ascetic life. This is
a uniform prerequisite for the most dedicated spiritual pursuits in every
tradition. The Buddha, for example, named
his newborn son “Tether” and abandoned him and his wife forever in order to
lead an ascetic life. Elsewhere, Jesus and
Elijah tell prospective disciples to leave their families, leave their livelihoods,
and even leave the dead unburied to follow them. It is not a life for everyone. It is not a morally responsible choice for
Jesus offers his famous “camel through an eye of a needle” metaphor. We must
never fail to read this passage to the end. Jesus recognizes that no one is
good, no one is without sin, no one has successfully ransomed his own life or
been worthy of the divine sacrifice represented by Jesus’ incarnation and death.
This is not a threat of hell. As usual, it is a promise of salvation for
every single human being that has ever lived and an invitation to us to rejoice
in that rather than to begrudge it being given to those who we feel might not deserve it. None of us deserves it. Our human desire to commodify God’s love and deeply resent its non-exclusivity is
the point of a raft of parables and stories: the multiplication of loaves, the workers in
the vineyard, the prodigal son, Jonah, Job, the man blind from birth, the
wedding feast, and the Beatitudes to name just a few.
Read Luke 4:14-30 carefully: what causes Jesus to be nearly thrown off a cliff in his hometown is not that he declared himself the messiah; it is that he declared that people other than Jews would receive salvation! But we will always skew the interpretations
to make God’s love conditional and limited again. I believe it is that human instinct that got
Jesus crucified. Are we really Christians before we come to terms with this?