I believe we all know the Gospel story of the rich young man. However, I believe many of us mangle the message.
Jesus did NOT tell the rich young man he had to see all his stuff to get into heaven. No, Jesus didn’t say that.
Here’s what Jesus did say. Jesus told the rich young man that, standing alone, no human can get into heaven. Jesus said, without God’s help, heaven is beyond every human’s grasp. But, Jesus went on, with God’s help, all of us can get into heaven by following the commandments. And the commandments, however rigorous they might be, do not require us to give away all our possessions.
Yes, Jesus did recommend that the young man sell all he had, give it to the poor, and follow him But, that suggestion was in response to the young man asking how he could become perfect. Now, I have no doubt Jesus would have liked the young man to give his wealth to the poor. Yet, I suspect Jesus was being, at least in part, facetious. The Christian virtue of being detached from worldly things does not mean we must give up our things, but that we would give them up, if necessary. It also means we follow Jesus’ requirement that we give sacrificially to the church and charity.
Jesus was telling the rich young man he should put God, not things, first in his life. And, of course, Jesus tells us the same. So, one of the spiritual questions upon which eternity depends is, “Do we put God first in our lives?” Unfortunately, too many of us do not.
Here’s a modern parable. Peter considered himself an American success story. He was first in his family to go to college. He was also first to own his own business, Bumper Sticker Paradise. Father Pat asked Peter to tell him his secret of success. Peter said, “The seven deadly sins.” Father Pat said, “I don’t understand. Please explain.” Peter said, “I sell bumper stickers. So, I took the seven deadly sins and found that enough Americans live those sins that I could become a millionaire by having them brag about it on their bumpers." Peter went on, “Father look at how the seven deadly sins compare to my seven best sellers.”
Seven Deadly Sins
Bumper Sticker Paradise Best Sellers
So, how about us? Do we follow God’s commandments? Are we sufficiently detached from our stuff? Do we give sacrificially to Church and charity? Do we put God first in our lives? Unsure? Well, let’s ask ourselves how many of the Bumper Sticker Paradise’s best sellers apply to us.
The rich young man went away sad when Jesus told him to live God’s values, not the world’s values. The ultimate question of our lives is the following. Read the question several times. The right answer is essential if we want to get into heaven. Will we go away sad from the Pearly Gates when Jesus asks, “Down there, did you live God’s values or the world’s values?"