By Fr. Jake Greiner
Many of us are familiar with the interaction that Jesus has with the rich young man as told in three of the Gospels (Matt. 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-22, and Luke 18:18-23). At the end of the conversation Jesus presents the following challenge to this young man: “Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’” (Matt. 19:21). As we know from these accounts, this young man leaves the presence of Jesus because the Gospel accounts tell us that he was rich and had many possessions.
I have read this passage hundreds of times and still am filled with a whole array of possible thoughts and emotional reactions. Would I have made the same decision as this man, or would I have left everything behind? Furthermore, I can see part of myself in the young man, especially the challenge inside my soul that arises when I realize that following Jesus means that I might have to leave some things behind in my life. There is definitely much that Jesus wants to reveal to each of us through our prayer and meditation on this passage from sacred Scripture, and I challenge everyone to spend some time with this passage at some point in the near future. However, I want to offer one lesson that I have gained from my prayer with this passage.
If a person wanted to sum up this encounter in a concise way, it could be said that the rich young man was not able to say “yes” to Jesus Christ. This man could not follow Jesus Christ at this point in his life. If he could have said “yes” to Jesus Christ, his life would have been undoubtedly blessed by his surrender of himself. However, I believe the more important lesson I gained from my prayer about Jesus’ interaction with the young man is that he could not say “no” to other things in his life. He could not sever the attachments and relationships he had in his rich life. I imagine this young man acknowledged that many of the things he had in his life were good, and he had to say “no” to some good things in order to be able to say “yes” to the source of all goodness, Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, the contemporary society is challenging us to say “yes” all of the time. Our hectic lives point to this reality, and I honestly believe that many of us know that we have said “yes” too much. However, our “yes” is demanded by many good things — relationships, activities and responsibilities. We are in the position of the rich young man in our relationship with Jesus Christ. What are we going to say “no” to in our lives in order to make sure that we do not miss the invitation from Jesus Christ to follow him more closely? This is a question that each of us must wrestle with in our lives.
As I was told by numerous commentators and preachers, we do not know whether the rich young man came back to be a follower of Jesus Christ after thinking about this interaction he had with Jesus Christ. Therefore, if we have gotten our choices wrong, we change them. The challenge for each of us is constantly making sure that our “yes” and “no” count in our following of Jesus Christ.
(Fr. Greiner is pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville and Sacred Heart Parish in Melcher.)