Today’s gospel reading is a rather heartbreaking story, to be honest. The rich young man is obviously a follower of the law and a religious man, because he is able to talk to Jesus about his observance. But when Jesus tells him to let go of what he has in order to gain eternal life, he walks away dejected because he has so much. We don’t know what ultimately happens to the rich young man. Maybe he did go and begin the hard work of letting go, selling his possessions and giving to the poor. And maybe he just couldn’t do it. But at least he knows what he has to do.
I think that far more heartbreaking than this story of the rich young man is the story of modern men and women, rich and not-so-rich, young and old alike. I am more heartbroken for these because as much as the rich young man in the gospel story asked what he had to do to gain eternal life, too many of today’s men and women have lost the desire even to ask the question.
We too are rich men and women, young and old. Maybe we don’t think we have much, but we have way more than most people in most parts of the world. We live in one of the richest counties of the richest nation on earth, and what we have is considerable. If we too were told to go, sell what we have, and give to the poor so that we could have eternal life, most of us wouldn’t even know where to start. But to be honest, so many people are not even there yet. So many don’t even bother to ask what it takes to gain eternal life. Many more don’t bother to live the requirements of religion, and even more don’t even know what those requirements are.
We may be rich in the things of earth, but, as the story tells us, we are so very poor in the things of eternity. “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!”
I hope your heart is breaking too. These are not words of joy and blessing that Jesus is speaking to us today. They are words of challenge. He wants to light a fire under us and smack us full force out of our complacency. “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” So many people are not with us here at Mass today. Whether it’s soccer or football or work or sloth, they are missing, and our gathering is the poorer for it. Many of them will feel guilty about missing, perhaps some of them will even confess it. But far too many of them don’t care or don’t even know that they should care. How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!
People today, even maybe some of us gathered here today, are so greatly focused on getting ahead, becoming rich in the things of earth, skyrocketing our careers, being well thought of – we are so embarrassingly rich in all these ways. But none of those things are going to get us into heaven, into the kingdom of God. We are all being told today to go, sell those paltry, fading glory things and give to those who are poorer, so that we can all enter the kingdom of God together. Will we too walk away, like the rich young man in the gospel, dejected and depressed because we have too much to let go of it all? How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!
In this respect life month, we might find we are too rich in other ways as well. We may cling to the way that we’re thought of and so encourage or at least look the other way when a mother ends a pregnancy. Or we’re so concerned about the value of our homes and the safety of our riches that we tolerate the death penalty. Or the care of a loved one takes us away from our work so we don’t care for those loved ones the way we should. But we are a people who are gifted with life from conception to natural death, and we are called to reverence that life and celebrate that gift. We have to let go of anything that gets in the way of that. How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!
Taking hold of the kingdom of God necessarily means we have to let go of something. That is the clear message of today’s gospel reading. What we have to let go of is different for all of us, but clearly there is a rich young man or woman in all of us, and we have to be ready to give up whatever gets in our way, or what we will end up letting go of is the kingdom of God. And that would be truly, horribly, unforgivably heartbreaking.
“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!”
And so what do we do? Do we give up, throw up our hands, and walk away dejected because we know it’s all too much – that what we have to let go of is beyond our capacity to do it? No. For us, truly, it may be impossible. But nothing is impossible for God. God hears that desire for eternal life in us and opens up the way to salvation. He gave his Son to live our life and die our death and rise to new life that lasts forever. That same glory is intended for all of us too. All we have to do is let go – as frightening as that may well be for us – let go, and let God worry about the implications of it all.
And Jesus points out that this will not be easy. Those who give up their riches to follow him will receive blessing, but also challenge: they will receive “receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.” There will be persecution in this life. Not everyone will get why we are letting go. And that makes the letting go so much more difficult. But the rewards of a hundredfold here and a googol-fold in the kingdom are worth it.
And so yes, I come here heartbroken today. “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” But I know that God can make it possible in every person’s life. All they and we have to do is let go of those things that are of fleeting and fading glory. Because we’re going to need empty hands if we are ever to be able to hold on to the hundred-fold blessing that God wants us to have.