There is a proverb that says, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ but we also know that familiarity brings comfort. Given that we are creatures of habit, many of us often prefer some level of familiarity because it helps us remain within our comfort levels. Change, doing things differently or having to give up something can often raise anxiety in us because there is a tendency that it goes beyond our level of comfort. It is in our nature to cling on to what is familiar, comfortable, secure and to resist what might disturb or upset the existing order or status quo.
Our Gospel this Sunday presents to us the account where “Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before Him and put this question to Him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” The central part of the gospel today is in Jesus telling His disciples what it means to follow Him. However, the teaching on the cost of being a disciple is enveloped in a teaching about eternal life.
Unlike the Pharisees in last Sunday’s Gospel who had wanted to trap Jesus, the young man today comes to Jesus sincerely wanting to know, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It is important to note that the young man uses the word “inherit” rather than merit, obtain or even to conquer. To associate eternal life with inheritance shows that eternal life is a gratuitous gift of God and not something of a “reward” – it is a free gift, it belongs to God to give.
That is why the example of “a camel to pass through the eye of a needle” which is practically impossible, fits into what Jesus was communicating to His disciples – impossible to men but possible with God. The gift of eternal life belongs solely to God and He can choose with whom He chooses to share it. Even though it belongs to God, it does not exempt the disciples from living the life of a disciple. That is why Jesus tells the young man to obey all the commandments and to which he answers that he has done so faithfully. To this, Jesus now makes a greater demand and the young man could not commit.
Let us not mistakenly think that the invitation to “Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor… then come, follow me” as being a universal statement or as a requirement for everyone who wants to follow Jesus. The life that Jesus was inviting the young man to, was to travel with Jesus, and in order to do so, he had to share in the itinerant life of Jesus. The young man would neither need his riches nor his attachment to material possessions while being with Jesus. These will in fact distract him from submitting to preaching about the kingdom of God.
Our Gospel today may seem like excluding the rich from the kingdom of God but that is not true. However, Jesus makes clear that there are times that riches and material possessions can become a hindrance to the kingdom of God if one is not alert to the lures of the world. Money and material possessions are necessary in the world that we live in but if we are not alert to its lures, we can easily distance ourselves from relying on God and become self-sufficient, independent, and disinclined to develop a relationship with God. In short, it is so easy to be taken up with riches and possessions and feel no real need for God and His way.
The cost of following Jesus requires sacrifices and from each of us is demanded different things. Not all of us are called to follow Jesus in the unique and radical way of giving up all our physical possessions. But what every disciple of Jesus is called to is to follow Jesus with the same degree of trust and abandonment in a way that opens to us the grace of eternal life.
To those who have chosen to follow Jesus, He does not promise that following Him will be easy but on this road of discipleship, we must be ready to renounce any possessions or attachments that becomes a roadblock to love of God or neighbour. Let us today examine ourselves and see if there are any roadblocks that prevent us from being the disciple Jesus wants us to be.
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (10 Oct 2021)