The list of the commandments which Jesus presented to the man who wanted to inherit eternal life could serve as a check list of a good person: You must not kill; You must not commit adultery; You must not steal; You must not bring false witness; You must not defraud; Honour your father and mother. The man from the Gospel did it all from his youth. Don’t you think that he was a good person? Why did he go away sad, then? Was it because he was rich? His wealth was not a problem. His attachment to his wealth was. That’s why Jesus didn’t stop at the check list. He went further and deeper in their conversation. St Thomas of Aquinas once said that there are the four typical substitutes for God: wealth, power, pleasure and honour. When Jesus asked the man to give the wealth away he helped that man to realise that after all the wealth was his god, not the heavenly Father.
When I prayed this Gospel passage, I paused at the moment when the man was going away sad. Then I remembered another passage from the Holy Scriptures: Adam and Eve leaving the paradise after they sinned. They too wanted to be good, as good as God is. But they wanted to achieve it without God. The man from today’s Gospel also wanted to be good but without God, or better to say with a god which was his wealth.
My Dear Sisters and Brothers.
We can try to build our image of a good person but without God it will eventually collapse like a house built on sand. Jesus said that No one is good but God alone.
Going to church will not turn anyone automatically into a good person. However going to church keeps us in check. We discover that without God we cannot be good, that sooner or later we end up disappointed and depressed because of our failures. We end up like the man from the Gospel: sad.
Going to church will not turn anyone automatically into a good person. However going to church reminds us of what the man from the Gospel must have missed. St Mark wrote that Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him. When the Lord shows us areas for growth and improvement, when the Lord challenges the myths we have created to please ourselves he looks steadily at you and me and he loves us. Jesus doesn’t simply looks with love at us because we have done something good. Jesus looks with love at us so that we can do good things.
When the next time someone says to you: ‘You are a good person’ I hope and pray that instead of saying: ‘Thanks. I appreciate that.’ you will say with conviction and gratitude: ‘It is because God has looked with love at me.’