Sometimes I think it an interesting exercise, when preparing for a sermon, to look at what the periscope of Scripture is not saying rather than what it is saying. This past Sunday we read the excerpt from the Gospel of St. Matthew called the Parable of the Rich Young Man.
In this story Jesus is confronted by a rather wealthy young man who asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus responds by listing a partial list of the Commandments and the young man states that he has followed these from his youth. He asks Jesus what else he must do, and Jesus responds by telling him to go and sell all that he has, give it to the poor, and follow Him. Obviously the young man cannot do this as he leaves with his head hanging.
There are several things here in this passage that warrant a much closer investigation. By laying out the Commandments as he does, Jesus is saying that Ritual Observance of the Law is important but it is not the only thing that we should be doing. Formal observance of the Law in this case does not equate to righteousness.
In verse 21 Jesus tells the man if he is to be perfect he must do something, in this case sell all he has. Perfection is another word that is often misunderstood in Biblical Theology. As humans we can never obtain perfection, in the common understanding of the word. Perfection for a Christian means being willing to sacrifice, a deep, lasting, meaningful sacrifice. A sacrifice that is freely given!
So what is Jesus telling this young man? Jesus asked this man to sacrifice what he held dear, the one thing that was tying him to this transitory life here on earth, his riches. He asked this man, and this man only to do this not all rich people. What this passage prompts us to think about is what is it that holds us back from truly following Christ? Is it money, a house, a car? What is it that we have made a god and placed above our sacrifice that each of us are called to make? We are the only ones that can answer this question.
This passage is often used to illustrate how Jesus felt about rich people, that in order to truly follow Him they needed to give everything away. Well that is one interpretation and dare I say not a very correct one. The 4th Century Church Father John Chrysostom, commenting on this particular periscope, writes that the giving away of all of his possessions is the least of the instructions of Christ, following Christ in all things is far more important of a sacrifice then giving away of ones possessions.
So the question for each of us is, what is it that Christ is asking us to sacrifice? What is it that we possess or dare I say possesses us and keeps us from truly following Him? We are the only ones that can answer that question.