VOCATION The Rich Young Man
Extract from "THE PUBLIC LIFE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST " by Archbishop Alban Goodier S.J.
"As Jesus came along with the approving crowd around Him,the heart of the young man was stirred. Jesus was a good man, Jesus was inspiring, Jesus professed to teach, and actually taught, what made men grander and more noble. Even for such as he, this young man thought within himself, He might have some seasonable word to give.Jesus spoke much of the Kingdom of Heaven,of eternal life; in that He seemed to place the goal of perfect being. Therefore, thought this young man, if he would win a word of counsel from Him, he too must make eternal life his goal. The people round Jesus were enthusiastic for Him; they would approve nothing more than deference shown to Him; therefore, thought this young man, to pay Him public reverence would only add to his own reputation. His mind was soon made up; when Jesus came by , he would do the right thing. He would pay Him respect; he would treat Him as a wise man in the country, he would place himself at the head of those who would show Him honour. No doubt in return he would receive some favour, if only some word of wisdom, and his place in the esteem of his neighbourrs would be higher than ever it had been before.
When, then, the throng came near where he stood, he made as if he would join it. For one of his position room was quickly made; soon he was in the very centre. At once, sincerely enough, and yet with motives more mixed than he knew, he began to play his part.He went down on one knee before Jesus in the road; he looked up into His face with eyes that meant to be loyal; on his brow was stamped loyalty and truth and frankness and a love of all that was straight and noble. His dress was all that it should be; his voice was mellow and attractive; carefully from head to foot as he knelt he was exactly that which he wished other men to think he was, and which he wished other men to think him.
"And when he was gone forth into the way
Behold a certain ruler running up
And kneeling before Him
What should I do
That I may possess everlasting life?"(St. Luke 18 - 18-19)
Jesus looked at the good-natured,straight, well-groomed youth who knelt before Him. He looked at him,He was pleased; yet He was not enthusiastic.He accepted this mark of allegiance; yet He seemed also to take it as nothing strange or new. Could He know who this was who was showing Him such consideration? If He did, surely He would realize how much it meant for Himself. Yet no; He accepted the honour but no more; the young man was only doing what might have been expected of him, and as for what he said, Jesus seemed inclined to underrate it. "Good Master!" Evidently the youth had not weighed his words.This was a compliment and no more; and mere compliments meant nothing.
" And Jesus said to him
Why callest thou Me good?
None is Good but One
But if thou wilt enter into life
Thou knowest the Commandments
Keep the Commandments." (St. Luke 18 - 19:20)
Certainly this was not the kind of reception the young man had expected. "Keep the Commandments! " That was commonplace enough, surely anyone of ordinary self- respect observed them. But perhaps He meant something else. Perhaps there were other commandments of which he had not heard, reserved for those who aspired to the Kingdom.John the Baptist had enjoined prayer and fasting;every teacher of higher things had done the same.No doubt those who followed Jesus had like instructions, and if he showed himself willing to follow he would learn them as well. So
" He said to Him
Which? "(St. Matt. 19:18)
But the answer was no less disconcerting. Jesus was still unmoved; He seemed almost not to care; at least one might conclude from His manner that He looked on the young man kneeling before Him as of little importance for His cause.
" And Jesus said
Thou shalt do no murder
Thou shalt not commit adultery
Thou shalt not steal
Thou shalt not bear false witness
Do no fraud
Honour thy father and thy mother
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.."
And was this all? If so, then what was the difference between the teaching of Jesus and and that of any other honest man? In what did He excel? If this was all, then why was so much being made of Him? Why were His friends so enthusiastic, why did His enemies hate Him, why did He Himself make so much ado to declare He had come to teach a new doctrine? If this was all , why then he had nothing more to learn. Up to his lights he had lived a life of which he had no cause to be ashamed. Murder, adultery, theft, false witness, fraud - the idea of a man of his station ever committing anything of the kind! As for his father and mother, why of course he showed them honour; every self-respecting and educated Jew did that. And as for his neighbour, he could call the crowd about him to witness that he had no quarrel with anyone; he was always generous to all. He could only remonstrate ; he could only speak the truth; perhaps if he did he would learn more.
"But the young man answering said to Him
All these things have I kept
From my youth
What is yet wanting to me?"
Now at last, though the youth himself did not know it,the truth of his soul began to peer out. Hitherto, almost unconsciously,so much was it a part of his life, what he had said and done had been little more than a pose. He had come to Jesus because it was the thing to do ,he had bent the knee to Him because by so doing he won approval; he had asked for the key to eternal life, because he wished to attain it, because he believed that in that he would attain his highest ambition. But now he was disturbed. Jesus seemed not to make much of him;the ideal he set before him was no better than might suit any common yokel. He began to feel humbled, he grew more earnest, he must really show Jesus that he meant what he said. Even as he spoke, in no Pharisaic mood but in anxious self-defence, the mannerism dropped away and the heart of the pleader rang true.
And at once Jesus responded. The youth was upright; that He had known from the beginning.The possibilities in him were untold; that He also foresaw.The mannerism was no more than a little worldliness, a vanity such as is not only common, but is assumed by many as virtue. The youth had meant no wrong; he had only done what anyone of high ambition would have done in his place. Now, a new motive had been stirred, and he said what he had just said, not to win the esteem of men but to win the regard of Jesus, whose love he now began to desire. To that could Jesus turn a deaf ear?
"Which when Jesus had heard
Looking on him
He loved him."
His eyes turned down to him. There was fire in them now;there was eager love glowing over the whole face; love let loose all of its power and attraction.It would give this youth a great chance. He asked to be allowed to give, and Jesus asked for that which would make him a hero. And to help him make his choice aright He would pour out upon him the whole ocean of His love.
"Which when Jesus had heard
Looking on him
He loved him
And said to him
Yet one thing is wanting to thee
If thou wilt be perfect
Sell all whatsoever thou hast
And give to the poor
And thou shalt have treasure in heaven
Follow Me."(St. Mark 10:21)
Again we have to notice here that habit of Jesus to go beyond every appeal that is made to Him and to give more,to respond to every act of faith and recognition by an increase of both.In no act of generosity will He ever be outdone.The youth had begun with convention, as a youth of his position might; he had used the polite "Good Master", he ended by appealing as to a "Master "in truth. He had at first but asked for the means to attain ëverlasting life", and was told it.He was not satisfied, he asked for more, the grace of Jesus drew him on till he began to yearn for perfection.And in like proportion did the attraction of Jesus grow; first to observance of the Law, then to observance of the counsels; first to common righteousness, then to the perfect man; first to attaining the Kingdom, then to piling up treasures without it; first to a life of ordinary duty,then to a life of union and companionship with Him.
"Go, sell all
Give to the poor
Come follow Me;
Jesus looking on him
in that summary was contained the whole meaning of religious life.
The sequel was sad.As the words were uttered disappointment began to show itself in the young man's face. He had great possessions; with all his wealth he had hoped he might be of service to Jesus; he was asked to get rid of it all, and to waste it upon the poor.He was a man in authority; he had hoped that by his influence he might sway public opinion in favour of Jesus; he was asked to put all his authority away and to join a group of Galilean labourers. Surely Jesus had mistaken; surely this was not common sense; it was not reason; no one who aspired to found a kingdom would so throw away the advantages he had to offer.So nature appealed; so it justified refusal; and yet on the other side was something which said that he had only been taken at his word. He had asked to be shown how to do a noble thing and it had been shown to him. He had aspired to the most perfect ideal that he could attain and it had been set before him. To be made free, with the freedom with which Christ would make him free, to follow the grail which was the Light of light Himself, to be rich in that which his own soul had long taught him was more excellent, -no, it was not common sense, but it was heroic. It was not according to the nature that clung close round him, but it was according to that better soul which struggled within.He was torn between the two; the joy with which he had sprung into the presence of Jesus faded into nothing. Nature said it was too much; nature said he could not, he should not.It was wrong so to wreck his life, his happiness, his power for good. He rose to his feet, he drooped his head, he turned away, distracted, sad :
"And when the young man heard this word
Being struck sorrowful at the saying
He went away sad
For he had great possessions."
Jesus let him go; to what he went , who shall say?Maybe for him, in the eyes of the world of men, all went well enough. Maybe he played his part as well as he had played it hitherto, honestly, dutifully, respected by all who knew him,keeping all the rules required by his status; yet would he never forget those eyes that looked on him and loved him, that voice which spoke to him and asked him to be a friend, that soul which cleaved to him and promised him, not only everlasting life, but over and above everlasting treasure, pressed down and flowing over. And the joy for a moment would fade from his cheek, and the heart would shiver,and he would need to shake himself and turn aside to his "many possessions" to convince himself he was a happy man.
Jesus let him go. As he turned about and lost himself in the crowd and walked with Him no more, the eyes of Jesus followed him. They followed him and haunted him forever............"
What a dramatic Vocation and what a sorry end. Most young men to-day in Western societies are not necessarily financially rich. They are rich in opportunities and potential. They too have a lot to give up - it seems to them - when the Good Master calls. But if they refuse his call, or try to drown it out with their MP3 players, and distract themselves with the ephemera of the cyber-world or sports or the theatre, how sad a result that would be. They have the opportunity to serve Him in heroic fashion Contra Mundum -Against the World in a time of very great need.It is not an opportunity to miss!