“If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

The gospel reading for today (Mt 19:16-22) has the encounter between Jesus and the rich young man.  The man asks Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life.  Jesus responds with the words above.  The man presses on, asking which specific ones he must keep.  Jesus responds with the commandments that express love of neighbor.  Finally, the young man says that he obeys all of these commandments but wants to know what he still lacks.  Jesus tells him that to be perfect he must give his many possessions to the poor and follow Him.  The man goes away crestfallen.  For those who are proponents of a “once saved, always saved” Christianity, Jesus clearly refutes that here.  Earlier in Matthew we read: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (7:21).  Paul says: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12).  We must keep up the good fight.  But many of us in the young man’s position may well think as he does: “I’ve kept the commandments; what more do you want, Teacher?”  But how well, really, did he, or do we, keep the commandments?  The last commandment Jesus told him to follow was: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Well, who is our neighbor?  Today’s gospel mirrors quite well the story of the law scholar in another gospel who wished to justify himself to Jesus.  He knew what the law required regarding attaining eternal life but wanted Jesus to tell him who his neighbor was.  After responding with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37), Jesus concludes by saying that to be “neighborly” we must treat others with mercy.  The rich young man claimed to follow the commandment to love neighbor, but was not really following it.  His possessions possessed him and were not to be given to those in dire need.  May it never be said of us that we are so attached to worldly things that we risk eternal life for a few moments of pleasure in this world while neglecting others physically or spirtually.  Let us drop all undue attachments for the sake of Jesus and His Kingdom so that they both can be fully ours now and forever.

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