St. Matthew 19.vv.16-26
~ Someone came to Jesus and said, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?". And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments". He said to him, "Which ones?". And Jesus said, "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself." The young man said to him, "I have kept all these; what do I still lack?". Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go and sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me." When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I tell you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this they were greatly astounded and said, "Then who can be saved?". But Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible." ~
Some characters flit in and out of the pages of scripture and we hear no more of them. How we would love to know what happened to them later. Here we have the brief but tragic story of a rich young ruler who came to Jesus full of good intentions but went away heavy of heart after Jesus' challenge - and so did Jesus! He was a man, like so many modern men, "possessed by his possessions"!. The love of riches held him back from freedom and true life in the spirit, for he was concerned with doing and not with being.
He had nevertheless observed the commandments of the Old Testament and Jesus appears to have accepted this. Jesus never questioned the validity of the Ten Commandments but he knew that they did not go far enough. The commands are of universal application. They are literally the "Maker's Instructions". They are not suggestions, but categorical imperatives. We flout them at our peril.
In what ways were the Commandments defective? Jesus upheld them but he went far beyond their moral and spiritual dictates for some are negative. "Go and see what Andrew is doing and tell him to stop it", is a sign of our doubts and fears! "Don't touch that tree" is almost an invitation to do the forbidden thing (like touching an electric fence). Nevertheless the Commandments with all their negative injunctions were valued by Our Lord.
The problem concerning the rich young ruler was that he was obsessed with his riches and could not let go. It matters greatly how we obtain our riches and even more what use we make of them. One of the most pernicious doctrines is that the "end justifies the means", and that cannot be sustained. Money is not the root of all evil. Wise stewardship of money and other resources is important in our churches and our personal accounting.
Somehow the idea has arisen that "money is the root of all evil". Not so! No one, least of all St. Paul, said that. The love of money is the root of all evil. It has been rightly pointed out that we cannot take it with us when we go. Jesus' parable about the rich man who pulled down his barns to build greater ones - and almost immediately died is a salutary reminder that we should not amass treasures upon earth. I read recently of two old men discussing the death of a mutual friend. Man "A" said, "I hear old Bert has died; he was rich; do you know how much he left?". The answer of Man "B" was, "He left the lot!".
Not all can manage the wealth that they acquire in wise and generous ways. The advent of the National Lottery has shown how much havoc the acquisition of wealth may cause in peoples' lives. Not only the lives and well-being of others depend upon our wise stewardship of the wealth and resources God provides, but also the matter of what sort of people we ourselves become and our eternal destiny.