I recently used the Rich Man story from the Bible in my 3rd grade Religious Education class. As with most (both children and adults), the presumption is that the rich man goes away sad and does not choose to follow Christ. But is that really what happens?
I’ll recount the story from Mark 10:17-22 briefly, or read the full version here.
A rich man asks Jesus what to do to go the heaven. Jesus tells him to follow the commandments. The rich man is pleased because he does all that. Then, Jesus told him he’s missing something; the man must sell all he has to follow the Lord. The rich man goes away sad because he has many possessions.
We simply don’t know what happens next. Is he sad because this is a lot of work and he’ll need to part with many comforts? Is he sad because he thinks this task is too difficult and he might not get to heaven now? We don’t know.
Of course the point of the story is about living for God by simplifying your life and giving all you have for the Lord. We all face this challenge in different ways. We are all called to modesty, charity, piety, and service to the Lord and those in need in various ways. Maybe we turn away feeling sad or even guilty as we face these choices sometimes.
Whether choosing the clothes we wear, the amount we give at Mass or to charities, how often to let prayer into our lives (as often as possible, in fact, always!), or when and how to serve in certain capacities, we are always facing the choice of giving ourselves to the Lord. Even in our very thoughts, we must give ourselves to the Lord and not indulge in worldly or negative devices. Every part of ourselves is desired by the Lord!
This is no easy choice, as Jesus points out in the story. We must constantly be putting away worldly thoughts and actions to choose Him who created us. It’s sometimes harder than we realize. It’s not just about remembering to fast before Mass or during Lent, or saying your prayers before bed. Sometimes it means giving more than you think you can comfortably give. Or serving more often than you think your busy schedule can comfortably manage.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not too comfortable with getting uncomfortable, but this is what the Lord asks of us all. At one point, we bit the bullet and started upping our weekly giving, and you know what? We were fine. Granted, there were a few weeks we simply fell short, but we’re trying to keep it up. We’re making the effort, and once we get used to making the effort, we need to get uncomfortable again. It’s not easy, again, as Jesus pointed out.
Thankfully, we’re not scored on triumph or how much money we give. We’re allowed grace and, with prayer, we’re given strength (Mark 10:27). God wants to help us make these choices, even if we have to choose again and again and again. He won’t tire of us asking. His patience is eternal. For more on grace, check out what the Catechism has to say here.
So what did happen with that young rich man? Did he release a heavy sigh when he got home and start packing and selling items? Did he give up? I asked my students... because, in search of wisdom, ask an 8-year-old.
Some said no, he gave up and didn’t choose to follow Jesus. Some said yes, he left sad but he went home to sell all he had and follow Jesus. Maybe he went home and weeks later decided to follow Jesus’s words. We’ll never know, but we can answer that question for ourselves. Are we choosing Jesus over the world and our own devices?
For me, it’s a give and take. I try so hard to follow Him, but I do find myself lost in the world and I need to realize that and go back to focusing on the Lord again. I’m a work in progress. None of us are done until we’re Home with Him.
Personally, I’d like to believe the rich man did sell all he had and followed Jesus. I bet it was a struggle, and maybe didn’t happen in a day, but it’s the better option and I’m a fan of happy endings.