Lectio Divina: Matthew 19:16-22
1) Opening prayer
God our Father,
may we love You in all things and above all things
and reach the joy You have prepared for us
beyond all our imagining.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 19:16-22
A young man approached Jesus and said, "Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?" He answered him, "Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." He asked him, "Which ones?" And Jesus replied, "You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." The young man said to him, "All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
• The Gospel today speaks to us about a young man who asks Jesus which is the way to eternal life. Jesus indicates to him the way of poverty. The young man does not accept Jesus’ proposal because he is very rich. A rich person is protected by the security of the riches which he possesses. He has difficulty opening the hand of his security. Attached to the advantages of his goods, he lives only to defend his own interests. A poor person does not have this concern. But there are some poor people who have the mentality of the rich. Often the desire for riches creates in the poor a great dependence and renders them slaves of consumerism, because they seek riches everywhere. They no longer have time to dedicate themselves to the service of neighbor.
• Matthew 19:16-19: The commandments and eternal life. A person approaches Jesus and asks Him, “Master, what good deed should I do to possess eternal life?” Some manuscripts say that it was a young man. Jesus responds abruptly, “Why do you ask Me about what is good? There is One alone who is good!” Then He responds to the question and says, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” The rich young man reacts and asks, “Which commandments?” Jesus very kindly enumerates the commandments which the young man already knew: “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor father and mother; love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus’ response is very significant. The young man had asked what to do to obtain eternal life. He wanted to live close to God! But Jesus recalls only the commandments which refer to respect for the life close to others! He does not mention the first three commandments which deal with relationship with God. According to Jesus, we will be well with God only if we are well with our neighbor. It is not worth deceiving oneself. The door to reach God is our neighbor.
In Mark, the question of the young man is different: “Good Master what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good, but God alone.” (Mk 10:17-18). Jesus turns the attention from Himself toward God, because what is important is to do God’s will, to reveal the project of the Father.
• Matthew 19:20: What is the use of observing the commandments? The young man responds, “I have always observed all these things. What more do I need to do?” What follows is strange. The young man wanted to know the way which leads to eternal life. Now, the way of eternal life was and continues to be this: to do God’s will, expressed in the commandments. In other words, the young man observed the commandments without knowing for what purpose. If he had known it, he would not have asked the question. It is like for many Catholics who do not know why they are Catholics. “I was born a Catholic, and this is why I am Catholic!” It is as if it was a custom!
• Matthew 19:21-22: Jesus’ proposal and the young man’s response. Jesus answers, “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven; then come follow Me.” But on hearing these words the young man went away very sad because he was very rich. The observance of the commandments is only the first degree of a stairway that goes beyond, much farther and much higher. Jesus asks more! The observance of the commandments prepares people to be able to reach the point of giving oneself completely to the neighbor. Mark says that Jesus looked at the young man with love (Mk 10:21). Jesus asks for very much, but He asks for it with much love. The young man did not accept Jesus’ proposal and goes away “because he was very rich.”
• Jesus and the option for the poor. A two-fold slavery marked the situation of the people at the time of Jesus: the slavery of the politics of Herod, supported by the Roman Empire and maintained by a whole system which was well organized for exploitation and repression, and the slavery of the official religion, maintained by the religious authority of the time. For this reason the clan, the families, the community, were disintegrating and the majority of the people were excluded, marginalized, homeless, without either a religion or a society. So, for this reason, there were various movements which, like Jesus, tried to build up life in communities: Essenes, Pharisees and, later on, the Zealots. But in Jesus’ community, there was something new which made it different from the other groups: the attitude concerning the poor and the excluded. The communities of the Pharisees lived separated. The word “Pharisee” meant “separated.” This was the attitude concerning the poor and the excluded. The communities of the Pharisees lived separated from the impure people. Some Pharisees considered the people ignorant and damned (Jn 7:49) in sin (Jn 9:34). They could learn nothing from the people (Jn 9:34). On the contrary, Jesus and His community lived in the midst of people who were excluded, considered impure; tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, lepers (Mk 2:16; 1:41; Lk 7:37). Jesus recognizes the richness and the values which the poor possess (Mt 11: 25-26; Lk 21:1-4). He proclaims them blessed, because the Kingdom is theirs, of the poor (Lk 6:20; Mt 5:3). He defines His mission in this way: “To announce the good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18). He Himself lives poorly. He possesses nothing for Himself, not even a stone to lay His head on (Lk 9:58). And to anyone who wants to follow Him, who wants to live like Him, He orders that that person choose either God or money! (Mt 6:24). He orders His followers to choose the poor, as He proposed it to the rich young man! (Mk 10:21). This different way of accepting the poor and of living with them is a sign of the Kingdom of God.
4) Personal questions
• Can a person who lives concerned about his wealth or with acquiring the goods which the propaganda of consumerism offers free himself from all this in order to follow Jesus and live in peace in a Christian community? Is this possible? What do you think?
• What does this mean for us today: “Go, sell all you possess and give it to the poor?” Is it possible to do this concretely? Do you know anybody who has actually done this for the Kingdom?
• Let us say you own a kitchen with pots and pans and stove, and its cost was not small. You use this kitchen to feed your family, or the poor, or some in the community. If you didn’t have this kitchen, you couldn’t do this. How does Jesus’ advice to the young man apply to you to sell your pots, pans and kitchen? Which is the greater good?
• Continuing the kitchen question, if you also purchased the food and gave it away, this is obviously a certain good. What if you only used the kitchen to provide “cooking” for people who brought their own food (offering your time and resource)? Or if you sold your cooked food “at cost”? Or if you charged only enough for a small salary for your “service” to the community? What if you made a profit while doing this? At what point(s) does the picture change? Why?
5) Concluding Prayer
Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
In grassy meadows He lets me lie down.
By tranquil streams He leads me to restore my spirit.
He guides me in paths of saving justice
as befits His name. (Ps 23:1-3)