The Sunday Gospel invites us to wrestle with these fundamental, essential, focal questions: “What does Heaven cost?” and “Am I willing to pay it?”
I. Problematic Pondering – A rich man asks Jesus, Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Though his question is a good one, it is problematic because he couches it in terms of his own personal power and achievement. He wonders what he himself must do to attain eternal life.
The problem is that none of us has the holiness, the spiritual wealth, or the power to attain Heaven based merely on what we do. The kind of righteousness we need can come only from God. The misguided question of the rich man betrays two common misunderstandings that people bring to the question of salvation and the need for redemption.
The first misunderstanding comes about because we underestimate the seriousness of our condition. We tend to think that we’re basically in good shape. Perhaps we have a few flaws, but fundamentally we mean well and are decent. We suspect that a few sacraments, occasional prayers, and some spiritual “push-ups” will be sufficient. Any look to the crucifix should belie these notions. If it took the horrible death of the Son of God to rescue us, then our condition must be worse than we, with our darkened intellect, imagine.
Jesus related a parable of a man who owed a huge debt—10,000 talents (cf Mt 18:24). This was an amount so large as to be almost unimaginable. No one with such a debt is going to be able to repay it merely by working a little overtime or picking up an additional part-time job. The point is that we humans are in deep trouble and have absolutely no ability to rescue ourselves.
A second misunderstanding comes about because we tend to intellectualize and minimize what the law of God requires. We ask, “What must I do?” rather than “What must I become?” This bespeaks a law-based approach that seeks a manageable list of things to do in order to be saved rather than an open-ended relationship with God. “Okay, so I’m not supposed to kill anyone. No problem, I don’t like the sight of blood anyway. I’ve got this commandment down!” This thinking minimizes the commandment and what it asks of us.
These two misunderstandings seem to undergird the problematic nature of the rich man’s question. In order to engage the man further, Jesus in effect plays along with the premise; this leads us to the second point.
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