This gospel passage might well apply to many of today’s youth. Keeping the commandments for this rather self-assertive young man seems old hat. He asks “what good thing must I do to have eternal life?”
He seems to think there is just one path upon which this renowned teacher could set him. Jesus, however, focusses his teaching on goodness. “There is one who is good.” The individualism of this young man is redirected to the Law (Torah) and a more outgoing view focussed upon one’s neighbour. The conversation for both the young man and Jesus moves beyond the way of the Torah. Perfection is to sell all one has and give the proceeds to the poor. After doing that the invitation to follow Jesus is issued. Hence true discipleship, for Matthew, is the following of Jesus. From this point forward there can be no perfection that does not include the following of Jesus with no security other than radical trust in God. What this young man must do is surrender himself totally to the one who alone is good.
Sadly, for him, the cost is too high. In his heart he wants to take up Jesus’ invitation, but his many possessions in fact possess him. That huge dilemma leads Jesus to reflect upon the blockage wealth creates to entrance into the kingdom of God. The saying about the camel passing through the eye of the needle, understood as a comic exaggeration, is meant to shock the hearers out of complacency. Salvation is a divine not a human achievement. By placing their security in something less than God (i.e. human wealth) humans block their access to divine power and goodness. The greater wisdom is to give one’s wealth to the poor.
Matthew sees Jesus’ invitation as applying to all in some respects and not in others. It applies to all in that salvation is entirely the gift of God that comes to us in the person of Jesus. Reliance on wealth for security gets in the way of radical trust in God which is incumbent on all who enter the kingdom. But there will always be those who hear Jesus’ call to the rich young man as addressed to themselves literally. I am thinking here of such persons as Saint Anthony of Egypt and Saint Francis of Assisi. God bless them for the example they give to us. For the rest of us trust in God above all else.
Fr Brian Kelty