When I was 17 years old, I caused a car accident. It wasn’t a particularly spectacular crash – but it was memorable for three reasons. First, I collided with some friends of mine; second, because I totaled my father’s Buick (the only new car he ever owned); and third, because my back has never been the same. I’ve spent time over the past twenty years with physiotherapists, massage therapists, and chiropractors making sure that everything stays moving properly.
A few years ago, during a checkup with my family doctor, the nurse who was working with him strongly suggested there was a simple solution to this and a few other health problems I had: to lose some weight. And for a time I did (and my back was better) – but once again, I find myself in the same position; I need to lighten the load. And you’d think, with the evidence so blatantly obvious (lighter Mike=healthier Mike), this would be easy. But I like yummy food and would rather watch sports on TV than workout myself.
Matthew 19:16-22 introduces us to a man who’s name we will never know – we only know that he’s a rich, young man. But he runs to Jesus looking for answers – namely, what does he need to do to gain eternal life (cf Mt 19:16)? The story ends with him going away sad, because what was asked of him was more than he was willing to do. And sadly, he and I have more in common than I’d like to admit (and unfortunately, it’s not the “wealthy” part…)
Though I’m no professional athlete, I’ve been decently healthy for most of my life. I don’t smoke and I don’t drink, I try to eat well, and I’ve been known to work out from time to time. But it’s in those moments – confronted by the nurse or feeling the ache in my back again – that I realize I need to renew my commitment to doing what’s hard because I know the payoff in the end is worth it for myself and for mini stick hockey games with my kids.
In May of 2007, Pope Benedict XVI explained the above passage to young people in Brazil. There, he pointed out that the young man’s question wasn’t so much about the future – eternal life – but rather, the present moment:
In short, the young man’s question raises the issue of life’s meaning. It can therefore be formulated in this way: what must I do so that my life has meaning? How must I live so as to reap the full fruits of life? Or again: what must I do so that my life is not wasted?
It makes sense to bring this question to Jesus. Jesus promises us a life full of meaning (cf. John 10:10), and although this man seems to epitomize the “good person” – he didn’t lie, steal, kill, cheat, and he had a solid relationship with his parents – something was still missing. He felt the ache in his heart to do and be more than a good person. So Jesus confronted him about his “wealth” – that thing which he valued more than his relationship with God. In much the same way as I resist giving up slurpees, jelly beans, the comfort that came from this man’s wealth was too much to just leave behind.
In the same reflection on this passage, Pope Benedict suggested that “wealth” was, for this young man, his youth itself:
…youth appears as a form of wealth because it leads to the discovery of life as a gift and a task. The young man in the Gospel understood that his youth was itself a treasure. He went to Jesus, the good Teacher, in order to seek some direction. At the moment of the great decision, however, he lacked the courage to wager everything on Jesus Christ.
How often do we all lack the courage to make the “great decision?”
There are no shortage of books, websites, apps, and wearable fitness gadgets which promise the solution to my (our) health woes. But every plan and scheme to get in shape centers on two things: eating better and exercising more; and even these assume the willingness to do what’s hard for the sake of being (and feeling) healthier. That great decision (to be healthy) is what motivates you to get out of bed a little earlier for a workout and to say no to dessert.
Likewise, there are no shortage of books, websites,apps, and gadgets that promise the secret towards finding fulfillment in life. But here, the solution has always been centered on one thing (cf. Luke 10:42), the “great decision” to place one’s relationship with God above any other treasure (wealth, pleasure, youth, popularity, or otherwise). Learning to place God first and foremost in one’s life – and to trust His promise for a fulfillment that lasts – help us to get over the hump and make forward progress in our spiritual lives.
What’s keeping you from making that great decision?
You have made us for yourself, oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. -St. Augustine