As a child, I found Jesus’ interaction with the rich young man from today’s Gospel deeply troubling. I was entirely unsatisfied with any mitigating interpretations of the passage. Its message seemed all too clear: I was supposed to give all my toys to the poor. I did not want to do this. Thus, I sadly refused to sing any Spanish or Latin songs at Mass for fear that the unknown tongues concealed promises to divest myself of my many LEGOs.
My childhood approach to this passage was strikingly similar to that of the rich young man himself, who “went away sad, for he had many possessions.” It also has a resemblance to the rare solar eclipse which people all across America will experience today, in which the moon will block the sun’s light.
For both myself and the rich young man, Jesus was eclipsed. Most obviously, the rich man’s “many possessions” and my LEGOs eclipsed the Lord. But there was also another, more subtle Jesus-obscuring concern: moralism.
Sometimes we can be tempted to make Christianity all about morality, whether the virtue of chastity and defending life, social justice and serving the poor, or simply being kind to people. All these things are important, but they are not the primary message and goal of Christianity. That place is reserved for Christ.
When the rich young man approached the Lord, he was seeking a moral precept: “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” When I heard the passage as I child, I thought I had found this difficult heaven-guaranteeing precept in the Lord’s counsel to “go, sell what you have and give to the poor.”
Yet, Jesus offers the rich young man, and all of us, something much greater than a magic moral precept. He offers Himself: “come follow me.” The point of the passage is Jesus.
When we let Jesus be eclipsed by the darkness of moralism, God’s commandments seem difficult and dreary. But when we live through, with, and in Jesus, the “only One who is good,” it is then that, through His grace, our lives grow to shine with His own brilliance as a full moon shines with the very light of the sun.
Indeed, once I more fully came to see Jesus and the life in Him which He offers, the LEGOs were no hinderance. It became not a burden, but a joy to accept His counsel to “go, sell what you have…then come, follow me.”
Image: Luc Viatour, Total Solar Eclipse 1999 in France.