Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Rich Young Man and Ignored Vocations

I was particularly struck by the gospel last Sunday, in which we heard the story of the rich young man:

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up,
knelt down before him, and asked him,
"Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good?
No one is good but God alone.
You know the commandments: You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother."
He replied and said to him,
"Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth."
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
"You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
At that statement his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
We normally think of this in a straight forward way, in reference to the way that wealth makes it easy to be attached to the things of this world above God. This is, after all, what Jesus emphasizes to his disciples "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!"

But what I thought of this time in particular is that it's interesting, particularly at our particular moment in the church, to think about the specific way in which the rich young man refuses Jesus's call. By his own account, the young man is already living what we might think of as a devout religious life. What is it that Jesus asks him to do at which the young man balks?

"Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."

In other words, Jesus asks him to give up his place in society, his family, his home, and come do God's work full time. What is this in modern terms? To give up one's job and the opportunity to have a family. Take vows of poverty and chastity and take up a religious vocation.

It's not simply the fact that the young man is rich that is the issue. It's that the material and family comforts he has are important enough to him that he rejects Jesus's call to pursue a religious vocation.

Perhaps it's too easy to read this story as simply about the evils of being rich. In modern America in particular it is our particular quirk that in the most wealthy country in the world, virtually no one admits to being "rich". But Jesus is, I think, asking a harder question here. Are you called to follow him entirely in pursuing a religious vocation? Are you prepared to give up the ordinary comforts of the world in order to do that?

As we contemplate the shortage of vocations in the developed world, how many "rich young men" are going away sad from Christ's call?


Jenny said...

My pastor's homily was about religious vocations.

Michael said...

superb insight; much food for thought.

We had the typical bland homily about being not attached to material things, and this given at a parish in the 3rd richest ZIP code in Silicon Valley...