To Follow the Truth That Makes Us Free Forever
By Archbishop Francesco Follo
Wis. 7, 7-11; Ps 90; Heb 4.12 to 13; Mk 10.17 to 30
1) The road.
In the Gospel passage of this Sunday we see once more Christ on the way to Jerusalem, and today we read of a meeting of the Messiah with a man that does not want to enter into controversy with him. This man is rich but, although young, knew that soon or later he had to abandon his riches. “I think he was called in a kind of judgment by the fear of death and gnawed among his delights, thinking about having to leave his property. He had collected them, without knowing on behalf of whom, and wanted something eternal “(St. Augustine). Seeing that what he had was slipping from his hand, he asks to the Lord “Good Teacher, what good do I have to do to achieve eternal life?” It is as to say “I’d be fine, but I know that what I have can easily disappear. Tell me how I can take possession of what will be forever; tell me how I can come to the possession of what I will never lose “(St. Augustine)
This rich young man runs to meet Jesus, kneels before Him and to Him, who is the Way, asks the way, the direction of life.
Christ replies citing some of the Ten Commandments, the ones that have meaning in the social dimension and that concern love of neighbor, the test for the love of God. “Know the commandments: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not false witness, do not defraud, Honor your father and mother … “.
To the young man who answers him that he already follows the commandments, Jesus proposes to go further and to make his love for God more radical and profound, putting this love at the first place among the values of life. He then suggests “‘Go, sell what you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me.”
The key requirement of the following is the primacy of God, the rest is superfluous. You can own or not own, but it is necessary that the heart is not totally linked, absorbed in riches, but wants deeply the “treasure that is in heaven”. The heart of man, as St. Augustine teaches, is made for God, and to Him should aspire, while “using” temporal realities. Let the Lord enters into our hearts with the sword of His word, so that in the light of His wisdom we can evaluate earthly and eternal things, and become poor and free for His kingdom. (Prayer of the today’s Mass)
Jesus invites this young man and his disciples, including us, to follow him at a level that is unprecedented. In a passage similar to that of the Gospel of St. Mark, the Evangelist Luke writes “While he was on the way, on the road, a man said to him ‘I will follow you wherever you go’. Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head ‘… Another said,’ I will follow you, Lord, but first allow me to take leave from my home ‘. Jesus replied: ‘Everyone who looks back, while putting hand to the plow, is not fit for the kingdom of God’ “(Lk. 9, 57-58 … 61-62).
To follow Christ means to be willing to experience something more than the “thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not kill”, etc. In addition to not doing evil we should ask ourselves the question of how to do good and especially how “to be” real people in love.
Jesus had already announced that in order to save his life, one had to be willing to lose it for His sake. To follow him it is necessary to deny themselves and take up the cross (Mark 8.34 to 35).
2) To follow with the eyes, with the steps, and with the heart.
The rich man who came to Christ was genuine and earned a look full of love from Jesus, who seems to say to him “One thing you lack, decisive for you. Renounce your possessions, invest in the treasury of the sky, and your heart will be free and will follow me. “But neither the look nor the words of Jesus had effect. This man, however saddened, preferred to return to the security of his own wealth. He could not or would not understand that he was offered a wealth incomparably more valuable and lasting of all its riches: the love of Christ that communicates the fullness of God (Eph 3.18 to 19). To the proposed fellowship, which was implicit in the request of Christ to follow Him, this man preferred solitude.
Yet Christ had looked at him with love. Jesus looked at the rich man and Jesus’ gaze was like a caress, a kiss … the kiss that the master used to give to the disciple in Jesus’ time as in the case of Judas (Mk 14,45.). We could interpret this look as did St. Bede the Venerable, commenting on Jesus’ gaze on the publican Matthew (see Mt 9,9) “Jesus saw a publican, saw him being merciful with him, and called him telling him: ‘Follow me!'” (Homilies 21, CCL 122.150). Jesus said “What you do is right, but if you want to do something more, then go and sell your goods …”, but “You lack still one thing, leave everything and follow me” (Mk 10:21). That’s the point to where Jesus had carried the young man with his eye of merciful love. Unfortunately, this man did not believe in this look and in these words, he became sad and pulled back (see Mk 10 22). He did not believe in that look, did not believe in that love and was not able to follow him with the steps of the heart.
This rich young man did not have the courage to embrace Christ and his proposal of evangelical life, and the reason is clearly stated “Because he had great possessions.” Detachment from the goods and poverty are an indispensable condition for discipleship for three reasons:
1. Faith in God who is a provident Father. If He cares for the birds and the lilies of the field, He has even more care for each of us.
2. Need for fraternity: how can we continue to own all that we have, when we realize that all around us there are brothers who lack the necessary?
3. Need for freedom: if we are tied to too many things (and it is not just money) that absorb all of our time and our attention, how can we find the space and the taste for the things of God?
These three reasons can be summarized in one word: virginity, that Jacopone of Todi calls poverty in love.
3) Virginity: Poverty of self for the fullness of God.
Virginity is “poverty in love that makes it possible to have everything in a spirit of freedom” (Jacopone of Todi, “O amor de povertate”). Virginity is how to accommodate the look and love of Christ upon oneself, following him unconditionally, without asking for collateral security or have escape routes. One leaves everything even his own flesh to follow Jesus, without nostalgia and without hesitation for the way that He is. The required detachment is a gain, a bargain, not a loss. This is very true even for a simply human thought: in the sobriety of those goods that the Gospel calls riches there is the possibility of other goods much more important and human, essential for us like the air we breathe: the time for God, the joy of brotherhood, the liberation from the anxiety of possession, freedom and serenity.
Those who through virginity put God first in their life, become part of His “family”, where they find brothers and sisters to love, fathers and mothers to worship, houses and fields to work. They find love. Virginity is not a negation of love, is the fullness and totality of love. For this reason the Ritual of the Consecration of the Virgin prays: “Fervent in love, they prefer nothing to your love” (Prayer of consecration of virgins, in the Roman Pontifical, reformed in accordance with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council and promulgated by Pope Paul VI, Consecration of Virgins, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 1980, n. 38, page 77).
On Mk 10, 28-31
Gloss.: Because the youth, on hearing the advice of our Saviour concerning the casting away of his goods, had gone away sorrowful, the disciples of Christ, who had already fulfilled the foregoing precept, began to question Him concerning their reward, thinking that they had done a great thing, since the young man, who had fulfilled the commandments of the law, had not been able to hear it without sadness.
Wherefore Peter questions the Lord for himself and the others, in these words, “Then Peter began to say unto Him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.”
Theophylact: Although Peter had left but few things, still he calls these his all; for even a few things keep us by the bond of affection, so that he shall be beatified who leaves a few things.
Bede: And because it is not sufficient to have left all, he adds that which makes up perfection, “and have followed thee.” As if he said, We have done what Thou hast commanded. What reward therefore wilt Thou give us?
Theophylact: But (p. 206) while Peter asks only concerning the disciples, our Lord makes a general answer; wherefore it goes on: “Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands.” But in saying this, He does not mean that we should leave our fathers, without helping them, or that we should separate ourselves from our wives; but He instructs us to prefer the glory of God to the things of this world.
Chrys., Hom. in Matt., 64: But it seems to me that by these words He intended covertly to proclaim that there were to be persecutions, as it would come to pass that many fathers would allure their sons to impiety, and many wives their husbands.
Chrys., Cat. in Marc. Oxon.: Again He delays not to say, “for my name’s sake and the Gospel’s” and Mark says, or “for the kingdom of God,” as Luke says; the name of Christ is the power of the Gospel, and of His kingdom; for the Gospel is received in the name of Jesus Christ, and the kingdom is made known, and comes by His name.
Bede: Some, however, taking occasion from this saying, in which it is announced that he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, teach that Jewish fable of a thousand years after the resurrection of the just, when all that we have left for the Lord’s sake is to be restored with manifold usury, besides which we are to receive the crown of everlasting life. These persons do no perceive, that although the promise in other respects be honourable, yet in the hundred wives, which the other Evangelists mention, its foulness is made manifest: particularly when the Lord testifies that there shall be not marriage in the resurrection, and asserts that those things which are put away from us for His sake are to be received again in this life with persecutions, which, as they affirm, will not take place in their thousand years. (ed. note: Certain early Fathers, as, for instance, St. Austin and Irenaeus, held the doctrine of the Millennium; Bede however mentions the Chilliasts (though their name is omitted in the Catena) and thus shews that he means the Corinthians, to whom that name was applied, on account of their shocking doctrine, that after the resurrection the Christians were to reign on earth for a thousand years in sensual pleasures, see Aug, de. Her. 8)
Pseudo-Chrys.: This hundredfold reward therefore must be in participation, not in possession, for the Lord fulfilled this to them not carnally, but spiritually.
Theophylact: For a wife is busied in a house about her husband’s food and raiment. See also how this is (p. 207) the case with the Apostles; for many women busied themselves about their food and their clothing, and ministered unto them. In like manner the Apostles had many fathers and mothers, that is, persons who loved them; as Peter, for instance, leaving one house, had afterwards the houses of all the disciples. And what is more wonderful, they are to be persecuted and oppressed, for it is “with persecutions” that the Saints are to possess all things, for which reason there follows, “But many that are first shall be last, and the last first.” For the Pharisees who were first became the last; but those who left all and followed Christ were last in this world through tribulation and persecutions, but shall be first by the hope which is in God.
Bede: This which is here said, “shall receive an hundredfold,” may be understood in a higher sense. (see note, p. 78) For the number a hundred which is reckoned by changing from the left to the right hand, although it has the same appearance in the bending of the fingers as the ten had on the left, nevertheless is increased to a much greater quantity. This means, that all who have despised temporal things for the sake of the kingdom of heaven through undoubting faith, taste the joy of the same kingdom in this life which is full of persecutions, and in the expectation of the heavenly country, which is signified by the right hand, have a share in the happiness of all the elect. But because all do not accomplish a virtuous course of life with the same ardour as they began it, it is presently added, “But many that are first shall be last, and the last first”; for we daily see many persons who, remaining in a lay habit, are eminent for their meritorious life; but others, who from their youth have been ardent in a spiritual profession, at last wither away in the sloth of ease, and with a lazy folly finish in the flesh, what they had begun in the Spirit.