The Cost of Doing Good by Rev. Jerome A. Magat
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good by God alone. You know the commandments; You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother." He replied and said to him, "Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth." 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.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God." Peter began to say to him, "We have given up everything and followed you." Jesus said "Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father of children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, With persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.
The scene painted by St. Mark in this weekís Gospel juxtaposes our materially poor Lord and the rich young man who throws himself at the feet of Jesus. The rich young man is teeming with emotion and uses flattery to get Jesusí attention. You can almost imagine the moment: The rich man throws himself at the feet of Jesus, perhaps fascinated by the Lord. In reply, Jesus cuts through the manís emotions as if to say, ďSave the flattery. Donít let your enthusiasm be driven by mere emotion. Do you realize what you are asking of me? Are you ready to pay the cost of doing good?Ē Jesus is not trying to shut out the man but trying to move him to see that there are sobering realities associated with authentic discipleship.
Our Lord then draws a distinction between moral respectability and true Christian discipleship. The rich young man is a respectable person. He has kept the tenants of the Ten Commandments all of his life. That is the basis of moral respectability: not doing evil things. Jesus raises the bar: Avoiding evil is not enough Ė an authentic disciple of Christ must be prepared to do good as well. Jesus challenges the rich young man to do more than simply avoid doing evil. Instead, Jesus calls him to perfection: to detach himself from all of his belongings and to follow Him unreservedly.
In challenging the man, Jesus looks at him lovingly. His love can be described in three ways. First, the glance of Jesus is that of a love that appeals to the heart of the young man. Despite His initial rebuke of the manís flattery, Jesus is not angry. He appeals to the rich young man to take the next step in his faith journey and pursue perfection.
Second, Jesusí glance issues a challenge to the man and his honor. Christ invites him to put aside the comfort and familiarity of his life to come and follow the Lord unreservedly and without concern for his own welfare. To follow Jesus is nothing less than the adventure of a lifetime.
Third, Jesusí glance also includes the sorrow of knowing that the rich young man could have been a great disciple, but his unwillingness to take up Christís challenge evokes sentiments of heartbreak over untapped potential.
For us, the challenge is no different. The distinction that Jesus draws between simply not doing evil and doing positive good is real in our lives. The first maxim of the moral life is to do good and avoid evil. The ordering of the dictates is not insignificant. Simply avoiding evil is not enough for a true disciple. We must be committed first to doing good. In fact, if one is so consumed with doing good, one might not even have the time or energy to consider evil at all. Instead, many persons tend to reverse this first maxim of the moral life. They will spend all of their effort avoiding evil and hardly any time concentrating on doing good. Jesusí challenge to the rich young man invites us to emerge from mere moral respectability (avoiding evil) and plunge deeply into the adventurous waters of true discipleship (doing good).
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