When we go through the Gospel narratives the encounter of Jesus with young people seems very attractive. Young people are fond of asking questions, because they want to find answers for all the issues of their day to day life. Jesus was patient enough to hear the problems of the young people and he liked to have dialogues and even debates with the youth. We see people of different social backgrounds and faith affirmations approaching Jesus to find better answers for their questions. The rich man of the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke is a typical example. His story is repeated by the other two Gospel writers also (Mtt 19,16-30; Mk 10,17-31). I find this portion very meaningful for the New Year.
During the time of Jesus as well as today three kinds of people enjoy power in a society:
a) The young people have a say in a society because of their youthful energy and ideas. They are pro active and the famous revolutions of the world were led by them only. The uprising of the youth in 1968 was a great phenomenon around the world. Young people want to destroy the existing system and to establish a new world; normally they will be very idealistic in matters of politics.
b) The rich people govern most of the modern societies. They create a world, which will be attractive for the majority. They are able to purchase anything and everything. It is very difficult to stand against them.
c) The wise people guide a society by their wisdom. Right kind of wisdom is more powerful than physical strength and wealth. The wise men will have many followers, because they create a new culture of their own. They help common people to analyze situations and to take new steps in their life.
In the case of the man who approaches Jesus he had all the above qualifications; he is a young, rich and a wise man. Therefore we can imagine how much influential he would be. When he approaches Jesus he shows himself as an obedient disciple. If we read the passage carefully we can find a lot of positive things in his life. They are the following:
1. He had a good childhood and he became an expert in matters of the Jewish Law called Torah. We have to appreciate his parents for sending him for religious studies at an early stage. Not only did he learn all the commandments, but also he could remember those at a later stage.
2. In spite of his busy life he finds enough time for spiritual nourishment. He comes to Jesus secretly for seeking Eternal Life. I know many youngsters who deviate from the faith of their childhood. They feel proud of their new assignments and they work hard in the night as well as day to amass wealth. Once Jesus tells us a story about an young man who wants to “tear down barns and build bigger ones” so that he can store more grains; his philosophy of life is to “eat, drink and make merry” (Lk 12, 16-20).
3. The young man has the knowledge that Jesus is able to solve problems of his life. Many people have problems in their life, but only a few know how to solve them and whom to approach for it. They want to solve everything by themselves and often they fail in doing this. Just like Nicodemus, who came to Jesus secretly in the night, this young man also acknowledges the spiritual authority of Jesus.
4. He asks for the right thing, which is Eternal Life. He is not like the rich man to whom Jesus said: “You fool! This very night you will have to give up your life; then who will get all these things you have kept for yourself” (Lk 12,20). Many youngsters of today seek answers for many things, but their real problem is in their inefficiency to ask the right questions.
However, the rich young man could not achieve what he was looking for. Even though the dialogue went well this one could not reach the target, which Jesus set before him. What are his drawbacks?
Firstly, he could not update his spiritual knowledge. It was not enough that he was an expert in the Scripture and he could tell Jesus that he followed the Ten Commandments from his childhood onwards. He was not aware of the new interpretations of Jesus regarding the Decalogue; murder is not just killing a person, but it starts when you call somebody an idiot (Mtt 5,22); similarly, all the other commandments were re-interpreted by Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount.
Updating the knowledge that we acquire from the Sunday School is an important thing in our life. Recently a young man asked me whether our baptism gives us forgiveness of sins, gift of the Holy Spirit and a New Life in the Kingdom of God. He had passed the tenth class of the Sunday school. But he could not update it regularly.
Secondly, he could not identify his limitations and draw backs. He thought he is ok before God. But God reads the inner hearts of his children and he shows us where we have to make changes. Since he is a self-righteous man, the young man of Lk 18 thinks that he will get the Eternal Life only by learning the commandments by heart. Jesus calls such people hypocrites and he gives more importance for people who practice the commandments of the Lord. Unless and until we are patient enough to recognize our faults and ready to practice what we believe we can not enter the Kingdom of God.
Thirdly, he puts more importance for his wealth. He prefers the worldly to the heavenly. He wants to get the Eternal Life without loosing his possessions. Wealthy people are vulnerable for sins because their wealth brings them into association with all kinds of evil things of the world. Sometimes, rich people become rich by doing unjust and evil things. In the case of this young man wealth is a hindrance to his spiritual growth. That is why Jesus asks him to keep himself away from the worldly possessions.
Finally, this man is not ready for changing his life. Jesus asks for a de tour from all who approach him. Repentance and a change of attitude in our life are primary requirements to achieve the Eternal Life. The Christian discipleship needs an effort from the believers and everyone should be proud of the Cost of Discipleship. See what St. Paul tells the Christians of Rome; “Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind” (Rom 12,2).
This is a hard teaching for the young man. Therefore he returned disappointed. I think he is the only one who returned sad after having a good dialogue with Jesus. Let us take new decisions at the beginning of this New Year and make our life more meaningful.