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Why the answer to the rich young man’s question is actually so simple


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Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP - published on 10/10/21

Scripture doesn't tell us how this man's story ends ...

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. – Mark 10:21

The rich young man famously approaches Jesus and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The Lord’s reply, which exhorts the young man to keep the commandments, includes two key points, often overlooked.

What is the answer?

The careful reader will note that before his further injunction, first, before answering, Jesus looks at the rich young man with love. The relationship between the rich young man and Jesus is something much more than that of a casual questioner. And the Lord’s reply is neither cold nor dismissive.

The graciousness of the Lord, his love and mercy, is revealed in his gaze. The answer to the rich young man’s question is not merely a way of life or a moral law or an injunction to keep. The answer to the rich young man’s question is simply Christ.

John Paul II writes,

“This is not a matter only of disposing oneself to hear a teaching and obediently accepting a commandment. More radically, it involves holding fast to the very person of Jesus, partaking of his life and his destiny, sharing in his free and loving obedience to the will of the Father.”

To seek eternal life, the Lord reveals, means to seek Christ. To learn to love the Lord and embrace his way of life. To want him and him alone.

Christ is the origin and summit of this scene. He moves the rich young man by his gaze of love. “It is Jesus himself who takes the initiative and calls people to follow him,” says John Paul II. “His call is addressed first to those to whom he entrusts a particular mission, beginning with the Twelve; but it is also clear that every believer is called to be a follower of Christ (cf. Acts 6:1). Following Christ is thus the essential and primordial foundation of Christian morality.”

The master is the chief actor; he extends the invitation to discipleship. He moves his hearers to follow him and extends the possibility of a different way of life.

Is that the end of the story?

Second, we should note that we don’t know what happens to the rich young man. At the end of this encounter, he walks away from Jesus sad. But is that the end of the story? 

Vatican II teaches,

“The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”

Apart from Christ, the rest of the life of the rich young man is a mystery.

Did he once again find himself numbered among the followers of Christ? Did he come to hear of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Did he receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? Did he speak with the apostles and the Blessed Mother?

The Scriptures remain silent on the matter. Only in Christ is light shed on the rich young man. The same is true of our hearts. Only Christ can render intelligible the mystery of our existence. Only Christ can lead us to our eternal destiny.

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