Today’s reading from Mark 10: 17 – 27 about the rich young man who asks Jesus what he can do to inherit eternal life is a challenging one. Jesus first councils the young man to keep the commandments, but then further gives him a startling invitation that definitely takes him out of his comfort zone. “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Even the apostles were amazed at these words! The young man went away sorrowful, and I fully understand his discouragement. But from verse 21, which reads “And Jesus looking upon him, loved him…”, I see that Jesus speaks these words out of a heart full of love, tenderness and forgiveness. He wants nothing but the best for each one of us, which means true, lasting fullness of joy, and He knows that earthly pleasures offer us but a shadow of that.
I have this print in my office, taken from a larger painting called Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, painted by Heinrich Hoffman in 1889. I think the artist really captured Christ’s compassion. I love looking at it and being reminded of how much He loves me, and understands my struggles.
The paradox is that so many things in life – good food, books, artwork, music, a cosy living room, a lovely garden – are wonderful blessings if seen as gifts from God to be thankful for, and enjoyed and shared. But when we start to see them as our own hard-won treasure that must be guarded, then the blessings turn to shackles. Francis was given this insight, and though it took him a few years to understand and absorb, he eventually took it fully to heart and experienced a radical conversion of attitude, lifestyle and faith.
We aren’t told in the Scriptures, but maybe Jesus’ words to the rich young man also stirred his spirit, and led him to question where he was putting his trust and hope. Who knows, maybe Jesus’ words led him to a place of more abundant joy, stronger faith and life-giving freedom. As we study the life of Francis, maybe we too can travel further down that same path, developing an attitude of healthy detachment from our possessions and wealth, embodying a community spirit rather than a competitive spirit. It’s a measure of God’s love for us that He believes we are capable of growing in holiness, and He longs to accompany us, guide us and strengthen us on the journey. But He won’t impose; we have to take the first step, and ask for His help. It can happen if we believe it can happen. As Jesus reminded His apostles at the end of this reading, “All things are possible for God.”