Choosing or making choices is something that goes on every single day of our lives. We choose what time to get up, what to eat for each of three meals, what to wear on any given day, which route to take to work or school, and what time to go to bed. When we go shopping, we make choices to purchase one item rather than another. When we sit down to relax, we choose how to use that time. Will we watch television, choose a movie, listen to music, or read a book? All day long we make different choices. Although we probably don’t allude to the cost of each choice, there is an inherent cost in every choice we make because every time we make a choice we lose the opportunity to enjoy the alternative.
This is the drama that is unfolding in today’s Gospel story. Jesus is greeted by a young man who wishes to know what he has to do to gain eternal life. Jesus doesn’t answer the young man’s question; instead he challenges the assumptions that the young man has made. The first assumption, which we all take for granted, is that Jesus is the “Good” teacher. The second assumption lies in the young man’s notion that he can do something to earn entrance into heaven. While Jesus is a good teacher, he reminds the young man that God alone is good. We know that Jesus is God. However, the young man didn’t know that. Secondly, heaven or eternal life is a gift. Like all gifts, it cannot be purchased or earned.
Then Jesus asks the young man to make a choice. He must choose to continue to live as he is currently, a good life that is governed by the commandments; or he must choose to sell all his possessions and follow Jesus. His current lifestyle is good, but Jesus is asking him to choose another. I suspect that when faced with that choice, we would all react just as this young man did. To choose one option is to relinquish the others. This is not an easy thing to do especially when all of the options before us are in some way desirable. We select one job or career and thereby close the door on the opportunities others might offer. We take one trip and miss the excitement of another. The young man realized that his choice could cause him real joy but it might also bring hardship. Indeed, to choose the word of God is to choose the sharp two-edged sword of which we hear in the Letter to the Hebrews.
We all want to be happy in life. We all want to make the kind of choices that will open doors of possibility and guarantee success. Everyone wants security and well-being, and everyone wants peace. We just don’t always know which doors to open and how far to enter them. The more options that are open to us, the more difficult it is to choose, but choose we must. Do we want power or riches or beauty or even health? These are all good, but will they really satisfy the deepest yearnings of our heart?
We all tend to accumulate possessions. However, accumulating possessions is a subtle denial of death. You have probably heard the story of the man who told his wife that when he died, she was to withdraw all the money from the bank and place it in the coffin with him. He told everyone who would listen that he had insisted on this. When he died, the woman did as he had requested. She wrote a check for the amount of the bank balance and placed in the coffin before it was closed.
One of the mysteries of faith is the incomprehensible generosity of God. The passage from the Book of Wisdom tells us of a king who chose wisdom over riches, and he received riches along with wisdom. We are asked to relinquish all of the things we value, and we get them back a hundredfold. We are asked to make these choices in faith. We can never be sure of the outcome until we make the choice and see what happens. We are invited to take a step into the unknown. We are told that we will not fall. However, we are never sure of this until we take the step and discover that we have not fallen. Or if we do fall, we are not really hurt. Perhaps the faith needed to make the choice also supplies us with the ability to see everything as a hundredfold blessing. God demands so much but gives so much more.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator