We all know this week's Gospel reading. It sounds divisive.
Some, especially those who consider themselves poor rather than rich, love this passage. It seems to describe the ultimate justice, the final score in the eternal match between the destitute and the opulent. The wealthy will find it hard, if not impossible, to get into heaven – and good for them. Down with the rich, up with the poor!
If we follow this line of thinking, we conclude that the rich, even if they follow the Commandments, will inevitably end up "sad," like the rich young man. They will walk away from Jesus.
However, those who believe they belong to the happy and carefree class of the "rich," may avoid this Gospel. It makes one uneasy and even desperate.
"God's logic is not our logic," Pope Benedict said in one of his Angelus' talks. This principle applies to today's Gospel, too.
First, the biblical problem of wealth is not so much what you own as how you own it. I have met well-to-do people who share practically everything they own with others to the point of sapping their resources. They do it discreetly, promptly and cheerfully.
One elderly farmer, when I asked "Why?" after he had written an impossibly huge cheque for a charity overseas, answered, "The coffin has no pockets." He drives an old, beaten-up truck, wears clothes that remembered the rise of the Beatles and lives in a small bungalow furnished with Goodwill type furniture. When his son bugged him to buy a better vehicle, he snapped at him, "This one still moves, doesn't it?"
The dentist who, year after year took new immigrant families into her small house at the cost of her money, privacy and rest, and helped them settle in a new country, told me, "One day I realized that nothing I own is really mine. It was given to me, one way or another, by God. All I do is manage God's estate."
'Give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.'
On the other side, I have also met unfortunate individuals who seem unable to part with the tiniest item. Some are wealthy, others not so – but all are so attached to material goods that it seems as though those goods possess them, not the other way around.
These otherwise decent and hardworking people typically become aggressive when asked to donate anything, even at Christmas when most hearts (and wallets) open a bit. They readily blame the homeless for their lifestyle, the uneducated for their ignorance (and consequently, their poverty), the sick for their illnesses and maintain that they themselves do not owe anything to anyone.
Was the rich sad young man one of them? Was he an honest seeker of moral perfection yet unable to break the bonds with both his wealth and his status? Jesus looked at him with love and yet, despite the touch of God's loving eyes on him, the young man went away sad.
He must have been addicted to his property, to the feeling of success that went with it, to small comforts of daily life, to the show of respect from neighbours and relatives, to power.
We must not judge him too harshly, however, as more often than not, we are just like him. We all are attached to countless things and we all hate to see our comfortable life disturbed. Do we not seek out the best-paying jobs and the office with the nicest view?
Do we not relish our titles and the small splendours they bring? Do we not seek the nicest furniture for our homes, the most comfortable bed to sleep in?
That makes us fitting companions of the rich young man who walked away from Jesus sad. What is worse, often we are not even sad.
There is a hidden mystery in this encounter of God and the rich young man. We know that the man walked away sad. The Gospel does not say, however, that Jesus too was himself sad. Nor does it say that Jesus stopped looking at the young man with love.
We are not told if the man later returned to Jesus. You do not forget the eyes of the loving God easily.
He is the only One who can save us because, as he said, "All things are possible for God."