I remember the first time I was asked that question. It was about 40 years ago, and my young family and I were at the San Diego Zoo when a young person came up to us and shouted those words at me: “Are you saved?”
At first I was taken aback and didn’t say anything. But when he was joined by another young person who asked the same question, I simply said, “I working on it, but like St. Paul I’m working out my salvation with fear and trembling.”
I then said quietly, “Philippians 2:12”, gathered my family, and walked off to check out the gorillas.
It was one of those rare lucid moments when I actually said the right thing. Most of the time my perfect response comes to me about an hour later.
Of course, Jesus always said the right thing. And today’s passage from Mark is a wonderful example.
When the rich young man approached and knelt before Jesus, the disciples were surely excited that of one so favored might join their ranks. Jesus, too, treated him affectionately.
|'...he went away sad..."|
It is only when the man persists, saying in effect, "I've done that, but I want to do more," that Jesus looked at him with love, and issued His unexpected and radical challenge:
"…one more thing you must do. Go and sell what you have and give to the poor; you will then have treasure in heaven. After that, come and follow me" [Mk 10:21].And the effect? At these words, the man's "face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions" [Mk 10:22].
He’d been so sure of himself, hadn't he? He’d done nothing wrong; he’d followed all the rules. He was aware of his innocence before the Law, but unaware of his weakness before God. On this day, for the first time, a great sacrifice was asked of him. But he lacked the heart for it. The peace he sought seemed beyond his reach because he couldn’t let go of his possessions. He saw the way, but feared the renunciation. And this fear, this failure to follow God's personal call, always produces sadness.
Jesus saw the man's weakness, for nothing is concealed from Him, but says nothing else to him. And what of this weakness? Is it the love of money and material possessions? Or are these merely symptoms of something else, something deeper? The man's inability to shed his wealth results from his love of things over his love of others. But at the root of this disordered love is something even more serious: a form of self-love that refuses to place God first.
You see, Jesus doesn't condemn the rich solely because of their wealth. No, His concern is for those of us who place anything ahead of God. Material things, in themselves, are good. The sin lies in attachment, in trusting in them as if they will solve all your problems. Everything we have is a gift from God, a sacred trust which must be shared for the good of others.
"I am the way, the truth, and the life" [Jn 14:6], Jesus tells us. And therefore nothing, absolutely nothing, should take precedence over Christ in my life, over His right to rule over my heart. As St. Peter reminded us in our first reading, your faith is "more precious than gold" [1 Pt 1:7].
Let each of us meditate on that question today: What takes precedence in my life? Does my faith place God's Will first, or am I consumed by something else? Even human friendships, or the love for another person, can manipulate us, strangle us, and lead us away from God. For that which we place first in our lives – when it is not God – becomes a prison. Only when we place God first do we experience true freedom.
God is calling each of us, brothers and sisters, and He never stops calling. In return for our response, for our submission to His Will, He promises a different kind of wealth, a treasure far greater than you and I can ever imagine.
But only when we empty our arms of self can we stretch them out to receive the gift of salvation…just as Jesus, in total humility, and acceptance of the Father’s Will, emptied Himself and stretched out his arms on the Cross.
Then, when you stand before Jesus, with the fear and trembling well behind you, and He asks, “Are you saved?”, you can say “Yes, indeed.”