King Solomon’s reign over Israel was known as a “golden age.” One of the characteristics of Solomon that was remembered, in the life of Israel and Judah, was his wisdom. We can recall the story in 1 Kings where the Lord offers to Solomon anything for which he would ask. Solomon replies, “Give your servant, therefore, a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9). Such is the foundation of wisdom.
The first reading for today’s liturgy comes from the Book of Wisdom. The value of wisdom is seen as the highest value, for the author “deemed riches nothing in comparison with her … because all gold, in view of her is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire.” Even “health and comeliness” are below her in value.
Seeking to be wise is a desire to be cultivated in each one of us. Fortunately, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us to grow in wisdom and understanding so that we may know the good and seek to live according to it.
Another aid for growth in wisdom is the word of God. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us: “the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword … able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” Listening to the Lord speak through His word helps us in the quest for wisdom. He leads us to the truth for he is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). With His help we can rejoice in the peace that wisdom brings.
Jesus is the Word of God who invites us to experience the joys of the wise. The Gospel passage today helps remind us that wisdom is associated with love. The man who approaches Jesus seeks knowledge and wisdom. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he asks Jesus. Jesus replies by reciting the Ten Commandments. The young man must have been happy for he says: “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus looks at the man with love and says: “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
The interaction between Jesus and the man brings to mind several aspects of discipleship that are worthy of reflection. Seeking eternal life is the goal of every human being. By our very nature as created beings we long to be one with our creator. Thus the longing of the man for eternal life is real and natural. As Jesus recites the commandments it is with a deep knowledge of the law in its particularities but also with a wisdom to see the fullness of the law both in its ancient understanding as well as its fulfillment underway in his very self.
In the man’s ready response that he follows the commandments it seems that he is approaching the law in a superficial fashion. One might describe this as a “check-list” fashion. Finish one, get it off the list and move on. This understanding is not one of wisdom. The approach sees the law as stagnant and isolated. There is something more that the man is missing. Jesus invites the man to love and in that love the man will find his answer.
Jesus tells the man to go and sell all that he has, give to the poor and then “come follow me.” Three aspects can be seen in the commands. First, “go and sell” recalls abandonment. Jesus invites the man to abandon all those things he considers worthwhile, the things he considers valuable. It is as if Jesus is saying, “let go of the things that hold you back from loving.”
We today might think of possessions but it is probably more than that. Anything that holds us back from love, from Christ, is preventing us from being truly wise. What are the things that hold us back? Is it possessions? Is it unhealthy relationships? Is it selfish attitudes? Is it anger? Is it a grudge? Whatever the “possessions,” Jesus invites us, as he did the man, to let them go for they are “in the way,” a block and a hindrance to the life Jesus offers us.
Second, Jesus says: “give to the poor.” Abandoning those things that hold us back leads to the call for charity. Expressions of love, such as giving material goods to those in need, follow our act of abandonment. Since in wisdom we see that they are inhibiting our love, we let them go; we become free of them. The freedom we receive is a freedom to love; to love Christ and the needy around us.
Third, Jesus says: “follow me.” Now the man will be in a position of following Jesus as His disciple. In following Jesus the man will have eternal life. He will learn and experience the life that comes through the love of Jesus. Following Jesus entails walking with him to His passion, death and resurrection. The life that is accomplished through this saving self-emptying will be eternal.
Hence Jesus’ statement “follow me” is the answer to the man’s original question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Thus, the answer to the man’s question is standing in front of him. Sadly the man does not see and “he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
In our lives we continually are invited by Jesus to go sell what we have, to give to the poor and to follow him. This might seem a daunting task, and it is. Our comfort and encouragement comes from Jesus. He reminds us in the second portion of today’s Gospel reading, that “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.