Here is an important concept: Eternal life is only possible with God. Without God, away from God, there simply is no eternal life: It doesn’t exist apart from God. Apart from God there is only mortal life. After mortal life, life on earth, there is only eternal death. So the choices are eternal life with God, or Eternal death without God.
When I was a youngster, there was a game that taught trust. Some of you may remember this. A person had to close his eyes and allow himself to fall backwards into the arms of others. Most of us would catch ourselves by stepping backward instead of just allowing ourselves to fall freely into the arms of others. It is hard to give up our personal control and trust in another.
We see something like this with the man asking Jesus,
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus sees the man’s problem immediately. The man wants to be in control of his own destiny. The man is practicing his religion faithfully, mechanically, but doesn’t know Jesus. This man wants assurance of eternal life. That is why Jesus asks him,
“Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
Jesus is challenging the man to acknowledge him as God and to trust him. All good comes from God. We see the man struggling with this. Jesus acknowledges that the man has been following God’s Commandments, but it is evident that the man does not know God, but only God’s rules. The man cannot bring himself to trust and love God and God’s people.
Jesus’ challenge to the man is straightforward, “Give up your riches and follow me.” This man cannot do what the Apostles have already done. This man is too dependent upon himself and his own wealth to have assurances for eternal life. This man needs more than anything to be self-reliant, in control. This man cannot allow himself to fall headlong in love with Jesus. He wanted the assurance of eternal life, but he is prevented from attaining it because he cannot bring himself to trust anyone but himself.
The man asked for eternal life and Jesus offered it to him, saying,
“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.
Jesus explains this to the Apostles, saying,
“How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
The man’s wealth was his personal control over his own destiny. He said he wanted eternal life. But he could not bring himself to put down his wealth and self-control and step into the Kingdom of God.
Again, the only way eternal life is possible is with God. There can be no eternal life without God. This is the same problem as Original Sin. Adam and Eve were born to live eternally with God. God created them to live with him forever, without sin and without death. God did not create mortal death and God did not create sin. Adam and Eve had free will. Adam Eve wanted what God had, knowledge of eternal life, but they didn’t want God. They chose to rebel against God. They separated themselves from God. After their rebellion they hid themselves from God. God did not separate Himself from them. They separated themselves from God. They lost eternal life for themselves and their children when they refused to trust and obey God. They could not simply live trusting in the Friendship of God. They wanted to be in control, without God. This is Original Sin. They chose to rebel and be separate from God. There is no eternal life apart from God. Eternal life only exists with God.
Today we will baptize my grandson, William Francis Hamlet. With his baptism, William will become a Christian, and his Original Sin will be washed away. William will be restored to eternal life as a child of God, like Mary, the new Eve, and like the Apostles. This cannot happen without his baptism. Later, William will be taught by his parents that even if he subsequently sins, God loves him so much that by the Sacrament of Confession, he can become again like the day of his baptism, without sin. By the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, William will be nourished for eternal life. God does not want William to live apart from Him, but eternally with him. By being brought up in the sacramental life of the Church, William will have the opportunity to live with the assurance of eternal life, not just a vague hope.
I have never met anyone who didn’t want to live eternally, but only this mortal life. However, I know many who say they believe in God, like the man in today’s Gospel, but can’t really bring themselves to love and trust him, and to live with Him forever. Rather, they prefer to be in control of their own destiny, apart from God.
We know that we cannot earn eternal life, but that it is God’s gift. However, we learn from Jesus today that for those of us who love God, we can live with the promise of eternal life, and Jesus tells us how.
We pray today for William that he will be taught the wisdom of Christians, to trust in God, and that in his life he may learn to allow himself to fall into the arms of God, trusting in God’s mercy.
We will pray with William’s parents the words of the Psalm,
Let your work be seen by your servants and your glory by their children; and may the gracious care of the LORD our God be ours; prosper the work of our hands for us! Prosper the work of our hands!