“…he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” That’s the last we hear of the Rich Young Man in Matthew’s Gospel, and because of that, we surmise that he went back to his possessions and never followed Jesus.
That’s certainly a possibility—but I believe that isn’t necessarily the case.
Maybe he went away sad because he knew what he had to do next, and it was going to hurt to obey. Maybe he was headed to sell his riches right away, but it ached to let go of something he enjoyed so much.
I was once talking to a religious sister who told me about the few days before she dedicated her life to God in the religious life. She said that, as she was on the plane to her required destination, she “was crying because, you know, you’re giving up everything.”
She was sad. But she still dropped everything and followed Jesus.
Detachment hurts the same way that hard exercise or dieting does. It doesn’t feel good. It requires effort and sacrifice. It’s painful.
Jesus’ next words are especially encouraging for the Rich Young Man’s story. Jesus doesn’t discuss the woe of a person who rejects the Kingdom of Heaven: He acknowledges how hard that choice is. It sounds like Jesus is being compassionate toward that boy who’s suffering over what he’s about to lose.
Jesus’ parable about the camel going through the eye of a needle may sound like He’s implying it’s a natural impossibility—that's because we are picturing a sewing needle. But the Eye of a Needle is actually a small gate into a city. A treasure-laden camel can only get through by allowing its wealthy load to be removed for a while, and by getting on it’s knees: detached and humble.
I have hope for the Rich Young Man. True, there’s always a chance he chose not to accept the call, since to be detached and humble is impossible for man—but not for God. And he had just spoken to God Incarnate.
So maybe he was sad because, you know, he was giving up everything. And then he found Someone worth it all.