Dear Friends in Jesus Christ…,
James Kallam tells this amusing story in one of his writings. Years ago a young door-to-door book salesman was assigned a rural area. One day he came upon a farmer seated in a rocking chair on his front porch. The young man went up to the farmer enthusiastically and said, “Sir, I have a book here that will tell you how to farm ten times better than you are doing now.” The farmer didn’t bother to look up. He simply kept on rocking. Finally, after a few minutes, he glanced up at the young salesman and said, “Young man, I don’t need your book. I already know how to farm ten times better than I’m doing now.”
That story is a good illustration of what Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel. The farmer was capable of farming better, but he lacked the commitment to do so. The rich man was also capable of doing more than just keeping the commandments, but he too lacked the commitment to do so. Today’s gospel story makes it painfully clear that there is more to Christianity than just keeping the commandments. Jesus reviewed for the rich man the commandments, which are the starting point of Christian life. The man said he had kept them all. He hadn’t done one thing in his whole life to hurt anyone. Jesus admired him for this. But Jesus also made it clear to the rich man that Christianity is more than just a set of negative commands – like not stealing or not cheating. Christianity is far more positive. Jesus said to the rich man in effect: “Granted, you’ve never hurt anyone, but what have you done to help anyone? Have you ever used your wealth to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or shelter the homeless?” It was at this point that the rich man saw how sadly he was still lacking in perfection. So Jesus held out to him a challenge, saying in effect: If you want to follow me, transform your vision. Stop viewing goodness negatively – as not hurting anyone – and start viewing it positively – as helping people. Do this and you will find happiness in this life and in the next one.” The challenge Jesus held out to the rich man is this: “How badly do you want eternal life? How badly do you want to follow me? Do you want these badly enough to sacrifice your possessions for them?” The rich man answered, “Master, I want them – but not that badly.” And so the rich man rejected Jesus’ invitation. The thought of using his wealth for anything other than himself and his family was too great a sacrifice.
Many of us are like the farmer on the porch. We know how to be a Christian ten times better than we are being one now, but we lack the commitment to do it. We are like the rich man in today’s gospel We have kept the commandments too, but we haven’t yet been able to reach out as generously as we could to the needy, the naked, and the hungry. Today’s gospel is not an invitation to make a great journey all at once. It’s merely an invitation to take the first step of that journey. If we take that first step by reaching out to someone in need, God will come running toward us, take us by the hand, and walk at our side for the entire journey.
Let’s close with St. Ignatius’ Prayer for Generosity: “Lord, teach us to be generous. Teach us to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost: to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labour and not to ask for reward, except to know that we are doing your will.”
God Bless You,