20 August 2007 Monday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 19, 16-22 The Rich Young Man
Many of us can identify with the rich young man. Many of us have not gravely broken the commandments. We did not kill nor have we stolen large sums of money. We come to mass daily and if not, we try to come to mass whenever we can. We have loved and honored our parents. For many of us Filipinos, we cannot think even of the possibility of putting our parents in homes for the aged. Our parents stay in our families until they pass away. In many ways, we are like the rich young man who basically followed the commandments.
However, what was the kind of commandment that the young man kept? Jesus mentioned the following: “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” All of these relate to interactions with one’s neighbors. The young man said that he kept all these things.
But what did he miss? He missed the kind of commandment that mentions putting God first. He did not mention the first and second commandment and the summary commandment to “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with your entire mind, and with all your strength.” And this is the answer to the young man’s question, “What do I still lack?”
Thus, Jesus points out that what is lacking is his dedication and commitment to God. He said, “Come and follow Me.” Perfection is seen in one’s obedience: in our following Jesus.
It makes us realize certain things. First, Jesus points to us to look into our primary commitment. For us Christians, our primary commitment is to Jesus. It is to ‘fix our gaze on Jesus’ as the letter to the Hebrews (12,2) exhorts us. We are asked to look at our motivations. Many of those who are rich and influential have been very charitable. They have donated large sums for noble and honorable causes. We too can offer our services to advocate environmental reforms, support anti-poverty measures, or simply support the UP Maroons. But what propels us to do all these altruistic deeds?
When Jesus asked the young man to give everything to the poor (ie. his neighbors), he did not do it. Did he actually love his neighbor? There are those who donated buildings because their names will be printed on its walls; those who distributed goods as long as the cameras continue rolling; those who have shown their support for the environment to gain more voters in the coming elections. Jesus mentioned: from the first and primary commandment (loving God) comes the second commandment (loving our neighbors). Thus, our loving our neighbors finds its inspiration, source, meaning and purpose in God’s love for us and our response of love for Him.
Second, there is a difference in lifestyle. On one hand, there are people who love their neighbor, but do not trace its source and inspiration from God. These are philanthropists, scientists, patrons who support children with cancer, education in poverty-stricken countries, and medical research. Indeed, what they are doing is noble, good and heroic.
On the other hand, there are people who love their neighbor but find the source, inspiration, meaning and purpose of their selfless act from God’s love. These people will value prayer, recollections or retreats, worship and studying the teachings of Christ. These are the people who will continually learn about their faith and participate in liturgies. From worship and the teachings of Christ, they find joy in helping their neighbors whom they regard as brothers and sisters --- not just neighbors. Where do they get this sense of family and responsibility? In prayer, the Our Father says it all.
Finally, we learn two principles in the life of Jesus. In 1968, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a book, An Introduction to Christianity (Ignatius Press, 1990). In that book, he said that Jesus has two principles in his life: the principle of “the other” and the principle of “excess”. Jesus taught us to always love our neighbors in words and in deeds. But Jesus taught us that in loving, we must not give ‘some’ of what we have but all of it. When he made water into wine, he filled all of the jars not just some. When he died, he gave all of his life, not just some of it. Thus, in the Gospel today, we hear about these two principles again: he asked of the young man not just to give some of his possessions, but all of it. To give all, to surrender everything is the hardest part.
*UP students in GK Build in Bicol