Inheriting Eternal Life

In today's Gospel Reading,  a rich young man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In response, Jesus says to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor”. 


Selling what you own is a pretty radical thing to do.  Just think what you own: a house, a car, a bed, to say nothing of the rest, a computer,  a TV, and on and on. Early in Christian history, people who followed Jesus’ advice set up religious orders, so that those taking Jesus’ advice could live together. And so Jesus’ exhortation to sell what you have and give to the poor is usually taken as a call to religious life.  Understood in that way, it is one of the counsels of perfection.  It explains what you have to do to be perfect, that is, perfect in this life. 


But you don’t have to be perfect to go to heaven. And going to heaven is what the rich young man was asking about. The answer Jesus gave the rich young man should have  explained to him what you have to do to get to heaven. A counsel of perfection is by its nature not an answer to the rich young man’s question.


Or put it this way. If selling all he has and giving it to the poor is what the rich young man needs to do to inherit eternal life, what about everybody else? Does everybody have to sell what he has in order to attain heaven? If you don’t sell everything you have, are you going to hell?


The solution to the puzzle is to think about the description of the man asking Jesus the question: he is the rich young man.  In other words, his gifts lie in his wealth.  


Now gifts are highly various. There are lots of gifts, of great heart, or learning, of healing, or still other things.  But whatever a person’s gifts are, they are meant to be given back in service to those in need.  You cannot bury your talent in the ground and hope to please the Lord.  


So what you need to do to inherit eternal life is to use your gifts to the full in following Jesus.