When did you start to feel like an adult? When you started to drive? Or when you graduated college? At my 10th high school reunion my friend Kelly was then-recently married and we asked her if she had any children and she said “Oh no! I’m not that grown-up yet”?
She was 28.
Until recently, every time I would go home to my parents house a small part of me still felt like that little boy–who needed his mom and dad and who looked to them for wisdom and guidance and who mostly reminded me “You don’t know everything, y’know.”
And perhaps that is the message that God often has for us.
Last week’s gospel we met the rich young man–who clearly doesn’t know everything. He’s reached this pinnacle in his life and he’s looking for accolades. It’s rite-of-passage time and he wants to make sure that he’s on the right track.
We often think about our rites of passage—like graduation from college and we often mark that time with a celebration where someone gives a speech. Martin Sheen recently gave a great one that I think we all could benefit from his words at Notre Dame.
Martin Sheen’s graduation speech to the Notre Dame graduates is the same message that we often need to hear…”We can never know everything.” And often when we do Jesus reminds us of the thing or things that we are lacking in. And it’s all too evident to us that Jesus has hit the nail on the head.
In the Gospel, it says that Jesus looked on the rich young man with love. After all, he was someone who we all would think was a pretty good guy with the keeping of the commandments and such. And we also don’t know what happened to the rich young man—other than the one line that the gospel tells us—“he went away sad for he had many possessions.” Whether he followed Jesus’ instructions or not we don’t know. But we do know that he didn’t know everything.
In fact, the disciples don’t know everything either. There’s also a bit of background needed to know everything about this gospel…the concept of divine retribution was a commonly held belief at the time. If you were rich, it meant that God was shining favor on you. If you were poor, or sick, or crippled–then you were thought to have committed some kind of sin and this was God smiting you.
And with this story and many others the gospel writers tell us that Jesus doesn’t subscribe to this thinking. The disciples ask “Well then who can be saved?” If the rich young man who was so evidently blessed by God couldn’t enter the kingdom of heaven then what chance do the poor fishermen have?
But the good news of this gospel is that we need not know everything, and can not know everything—save that which leads us into God’s embrace each day. That our journey on this earth is indeed one in which we need to discover not everything, but rather everything that our heart has to offer—our own talents and the realization that our hearts can often stretch farther than we think that they can.
I took some students to Cleveland on an Alternative Break once and we were told by our host that we would be having dinner at St. Herman’s House of Hospitality. We assumed that we’d be serving food and then eating something together at the end of the meal. Instead, we found that we were the ones being served–we were there as guests.
But what that meant is that we had to get in line like everyone else and sign our names in the dreaded book. I thought of how it must make people feel to have to sign their names in a book because they can’t afford dinner. I signed my name so illegibly that nobody would be able to figure out that my name was among those who were served there.
And that friends, is sinful. I purposely wanted to distance myself from other human beings because I regarded myself as “better than” these people.
We didn’t talk to anyone there and found it difficult to make eye contact. We all wondered why it was so hard to make a connection?
We were then told we’d be returning to St Herman’s the next day. We made a conscious effort to connect with someone and I made a friend who found me petting the house dog.
“Aw don’t you worry about him—he’s OK. He’ll find plenty of food for himself. He’s deaf, you know.”
We bonded over our love for dogs and I found out that he was having a similar benefits issue that my sister was having.
We are all not so different from one another.
We returned later in the week and we were well-known people by then–part of the fabric of the place. Some even knew our names and signing our names in the book was not as hard. I even wrote mine slowly and distinctively.
In meeting those who are not all that different from us—and in opening our hearts not merely as servants to those who are less fortunate, but opening our hearts to allow our hearts to see the other as ourselves—to love our neighbors as ourselves…to give away all that we are including our security and our arrogance and our pride in order to to see with our compassionate hearts we allow that to change who we are.
It is what Jesus called the rich young man to do and instead he went away sad for he had many possessions. Presumably possessions kept him from God’s embrace because his arms were too full of possessions—so much so that they blocked his heart from seeing anyone or anything but himself and his precious rule-abiding pride. Pride that he hoped that Jesus would validate but instead it called Christ to ask of him one thing further and that was to open his heart.
Adults are strong enough to open their hearts to others, even if they think the experience might break their heart.
And so today—let us open our hearts in all our adulthood to those who need a bit more of our hearts. Let us do this not in fear of our hearts breaking but in hope that our hearts might move us to a place where we can most become all that we are–in all our brokenness. In doing that we become men and women for others. And we can lift our lamps and our hearts beside the golden door.