The conversation between Christ and the young man who asked how to obtain eternal life, assumes significance and clarity when we remember that it follows immediately after Christ had pointed to those who would enter the Kingdom of Heaven, who would inherit eternal life. A crowd of children had just gathered around Him which the disciples had tried to send away and Christ had said “Do not hinder these from coming to me, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven. Unless you become like children, you will not enter”. And at that very moment someone raised his voice and asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life”? One might have thought that Christ had said all there was to say; and that is where this man’s first sin lays. He had just heard the answer, but he was already searching for an excuse, an opportunity or method of getting round the commandment that Christ had just given. Is that not how we behave constantly? We hear something and immediately ask again in the hope that we shall be told something different, more consonant with our wishes. And Christ’s words to His disciples do seem to be a negation of the whole conversation with the man who questioned him. The questioner wants to know how to inherit eternal life, and Christ once more refers him to the Old Testament: fulfill the commandment, “I have fulfilled them all’ replies the youth, “I am clear before God and before men”. His conscience reproaches him with nothing; so what is he asking about? He is asking because his conscience knows that he is justified only by the law, but that beyond the law is a far deeper righteousness than merely the fulfillment of the law. One must enter into its spirit, and the spirit of the law is the love which flowers in the Gospel. And Christ says to him, “If you have done all this, there is one thing lacking – give away all your wealth and follow me”.
This young man is rich in worldly goods, but he is also rich in the knowledge of his own righteousness. He has done all that was necessary before God, has carried out everything that can justify him before men, and makes him worthy of respect and honor; he is rich. And now, unless he can leave these riches he will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This is where the image of the children comes in. What is the difference between these children and the man who is asking? The difference is that a child does not appeal to his wealth, does not boast of his virtue, does not consider that he has a right to, and deserves the Kingdom of God. A child is helpless, a child is powerless, and because of this helplessness and defenselessness he depends on nothing but mercy and love, on pity and tenderness. Yes, of such is the Kingdom of Heaven because it is a kingdom of mutual love. The Kingdom of God truly opens for those who can count on nothing but love. But for those who expect to enter by some kind of right it is shut, because it is not a kingdom of rights, not a kingdom of law, but a kingdom of mercy given through love, given free. No, a rich man cannot enter; there is no way there for the person who thinks that he has rights and is bringing his own justification. But the one who comes knowing that he deserves nothing, that he has no right to anything and will be met with love, believes in love, counts on it as his only salvation, he is already by his own experience in the Kingdom of God. This is what we must learn: to forget about rights, to forget about wealth, to become absolutely poor in spirit in order to be completely helpless and defenseless, completely dependent on the love which we give and receive. Then indeed God’s Kingdom will enter our souls and spread out around us.
Published: NEWS LETTER, No. 35, January 1973