‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We are born into this world with a voracious appetite for life. This hunger is a fundamental instinct that safeguards our survival, that leads us to reach beyond ourselves to a life shared with others.
The life choices that we make in pursuit of this longing can become, quite literally, a matter of life and death.
It was within this context that Jesus both heard and answered the question concerning what must be done to inherit eternal life.
It is a question that cannot be answered without first considering the purpose of our God-given lives. According to the Scriptures, life is not mere survival. The fullness of life, “eternal life”, in the question put to Jesus, is a life shared with God and with each other.
The Old Testament Book of Wisdom is a prolonged reflection on the meaning of life. It depicts the young King Solomon praying for understanding, the understanding to guide his people to the fullness of life. His prayer was answered with the gift of inner wisdom and discernment. “I prayed, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me. I esteemed her more than sceptres and thrones; compared to her, I held riches as nothing, for compared to her, all gold is a pinch of sand.”
The language is poetic, but it implies choices that all must make in life’s pursuit. Solomon preferred God’s wisdom above sceptres and thrones, riches and gold. His choice prompts us to question ourselves: what are we seeking in life? What are our priorities? What are we willing to sacrifice for the fullness of life?
In today’s Gospel Jesus directed his petitioner to the familiar commandments of the Jewish Law. The response he received, “Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days”, indicated that the petitioner wanted to reach beyond the law, to share the fullness of what beckoned in Jesus. “Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and said, ‘Go and sell all that you have and give the money to the poor, then come, follow me.’”
The love of God calls us to the fullness of all that his grace enables us to become. Because we are frail we sometimes cling to the past rather than embracing the life he sets before us. Thus the petitioner withdrew in sadness “because he was a man of great wealth”. In choosing Jesus as our Lord we choose the fullness of life.
In choosing Christ and choosing life we may or may not be wealthy. The choice for us, as with the wealthy man in the Gospel, will always involve leaving behind whatever takes us away from Christ’s selfless generosity. Such difficult decisions, whenever they come, can only be made with the Lord’s own reassurance. “For men it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.”
This article first appeared in the Catholic Herald magazine (9/10/15)