There are many passages in Scripture that tell of the dangers of becoming too attached to the things of this world. And typically when we think of detachment we think of letting go of money, possessions, power, and status. But what if detachment actually begins not with external possessions, but with our interior dispositions?
Recently on St. Joseph’s Workshop, Fr. Matthew Spencer, OSJ reflected on the Gospel passage of the rich young man. In this passage, a rich man comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus tells him he must obey the 10 Commandments, as well as the Golden Rule to love your neighbor as yourself. The young man tells Jesus he has already done all these things. Is there anything else?
“And Jesus says there is one other thing,” Fr. Matthew recounted. “‘If you want to be perfect, you need to sell everything that you have, you need to give what you make off of that to the poor, and then come follow Me.’ In other words complete dedication, complete commitment, and complete detachment. Letting go of things. It sounds radical, doesn’t it?”
Scripture tells us that after hearing this, the young man walked away sad, because he had many possessions. Fr. Matthew explained, “And that’s why, in verse 23, Jesus has to affirm it again. He says, ‘Amen, I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.'”
Fr. Matthew shared that he appreciates the response of the disciples who ask, if that’s the case then who can be saved?
“Jesus’ response I find very encouraging,” he said. “I don’t know about you, but it applies not only to this particular aspect of His teaching, but to life in general. Jesus says, ‘For men this is impossible. But for God, all things are possible.'”
“In other words, by ourselves salvation is impossible. By ourselves, letting go of everything, becoming poor that we can somehow make it to heaven. That’s impossible. But with God and for God it’s not only possible but it’s what He wills. It’s what He desires for each one of us.”
The rich young man followed the laws of God, and yet still walked away sad because he did not want to give up his possessions. Father Matthew pointed out that, like the rich young man, we often find the teachings of Jesus difficult to follow. But maybe it’s not only because we are attached to our possessions or our sins, but because we are attached to having control over our own lives and our own path to salvation. Recognizing our own limitations and our dependence on God is difficult. But it is necessary if we are to become disciples of Christ.
“Unfortunately, we try to do things without God’s grace,” Fr. Matthew said. “We imagine that forgiveness is a trick of the mind to get to in order to make things work. And we think that we just need to grow in patience by our own strength and our own power. That I need to learn to love and forgive based on some mental exercise rather than on God’s grace. But if that’s the way we’re doing it, it’s going to be impossible. Why? Because for men and women it’s impossible to do things this way. It’s impossible to follow Jesus. But for God, all things are possible.”
So if there is a teaching or command of Jesus that is holding you back from being a disciple, don’t walk away like the rich young man. Rather, recognize that you don’t have to do it on your own. In fact, you can’t. You need God’s grace to help you – and with that nothing is impossible.
“That’s why I want to tell you don’t sell yourself short here,” Fr. Matthew encouraged. “If you look at your life and think you’re never going to be the saint that God wants you to be, you’re never going to have that level of holiness, what I would say to you is that if you’re doing it on your own then that’s true. That’s impossible. But if you allow God’s grace to work in and through you then, in fact, not only is it possible, but it’s what you must do. It’s what God desires of you. God will make it possible in your life.”
“If you find the Gospel too hard to live, take a deep breath. Be like that rich man and listen to Jesus. But don’t walk away. Instead, realize that with God’s grace it is possible.”
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Listen to the full reflection below: