Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
(Judges 2:11-19; Matthew 19:23-30)
“Bear” Bryant won the reputation of harsh and successful taskmaster. His players were notoriously slim, not because they didn’t eat but because he trained them so hard. Coach Bryant’s teams very impressively won six national titles in his twenty-five years as the head coach at the University of Alabama. In today’s gospel Jesus presents himself similarly as the one who leads his disciples to perfection.
The passage challenges its readers. It seems to indicate that the way to eternal life is to renounce one’s wealth in order to follow Jesus. “Are then,” it may be asked, “only those who take the vow of poverty guaranteed a place in heaven?” An affirmative answer here is faulty on two levels. First, it misses Jesus’ point that perfection is a matter not so much of being destitute but of following him. True, the young man in question is ostensibly called to poverty, but more generally the sine qua non of eternal life is adherence to Jesus, not forfeiting possessions. Second and as a corollary, taking a vow of poverty or even living in radical poverty does not necessarily mean having a virtuous life. Again, eternal life is a matter of taking one’s cues from Jesus.
Still, we should not be overly consoled by the understanding that renunciation of wealth is not absolutely necessary for eternal life. The rich very often find their greatest satisfaction in what they can do for themselves and not in what God does for them through Christ. Such a stance is incongruent with following Jesus.