Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Rich Young Man

The Rich Young Man

          Sunday’s Gospel features the interaction between Jesus and the rich young man, who is a character I find quite interesting.  The man approaches our Lord with a question.  He is not trying to trip Jesus up; it is a sincere question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? (Mk. 10:17).”
          Jesus’s response begins in a fashion I have often found puzzling: “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone.”  What is He trying to say?  This, of course, is a favorite text of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who like to use it to question the divinity of our Lord.  But knowing the consistent teaching of Christianity as well as the numerous Scripture passages that clearly indicate Jesus’s divinity, He is obviously not denying it here.
          I turned to St. Thomas Aquinas and his compilation of exegeses by the early Fathers and Doctors of the Church in his brilliant work, the Catena Aurea, and found great insight.
          Jesus’s question is as sincere as the young man’s, and though He doesn’t seem to expect an answer, it is meant to inspire reflection.  Why do you call me good?  The young man approaches Jesus as he might approach any rabbi.  But Jesus points out that “no one is good but God alone.”  So why do you, young man, call me good?  What are the implications of doing so?  Are you willing to acknowledge who I am?
          This is important because Jesus is about to call the man to a vocation that he is not yet ready to accept.  Our Lord first tells the young man to follow the Commandments.  The young man responds, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”  I noticed that again the man addresses Jesus as “Teacher,” not “Lord,” or some other more exalted title.  It seems to me he has not yet absorbed the truth of the words that no one is good but God alone.  Therefore, it is not surprising that when Jesus calls him to give up his possessions and follow Him, the man goes away sad.
          Jesus knew this young man’s heart, and his attachment to worldly goods.  However, that heart must have also had great promise for Jesus to call him to what seems to me amounts to a consecrated religious vocation.
          We don’t know whether, in the end, the man did as Jesus said, sold what he had, and followed the Lord.  We only know his first response.  But to me it highlights the point that before we can answer the call of Jesus, we have to answer His famous question, “Who do you say that I am?”
          Everyone striving to live a holy life has to deal with the question, “Lord, what do you want me to do?  What is your plan, your call, for me?”
          Many of us ask the question with an agenda, at least at first.  I sure did.  It’s a big step just to get to where the young man in the Gospel did, and even ask the question, “What must I do?”  But too often, we ask the question with a desired answer already in mind.
          To be truly free to follow the Lord’s call, we have to reach a point of “holy indifference.”  We have to ask God what He wants of us with no predetermined agenda.  We have to trust that if God is calling us to something, it is what is best.  He knows for what purpose we were put on this earth, and He loves us more than we can ever love ourselves; and being God He knows what is best for us and what will make us happy.
          Sometimes, however, God’s call will require us to let go of certain things in order to receive the gifts He wants to give us.  Sometimes these things can be very difficult to let go of.  How can we get to the point of being willing to do so?
          It will likely take years of prayer, as well as a desire to reach that point.  But first, we have to be confident in Who Jesus is.  If we know that He is God, then we know that He loves us, and knows us, and that no plan that we make for ourselves can ever be as perfect as God’s plan for us.  We will acknowledge that no one is truly good but God alone, and whatever God’s plan for us is, it will surely be for the good.