Ordinary Time Week 20: Monday

“The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:20)

Saint Augustine of Hippo comments on this verse from the Gospel proclaimed at Mass today:

”The rich young man claimed to have kept the commandments. Then he heard the greater commandment: “If you wish to be perfect, you still lack one thing: sell all that you have and give it to the poor”; you will not lose it, but “you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” What good does it do you if you follow the law and do not follow me? He went away sad and sorrowful, as you have heard, for he had great wealth.”

What he heard, we too have heard. The Word of Christ is the gospel. He sits in heaven, but he does not cease to speak on earth. Let us not be deaf, for he shouts. Let us not be dead, for he thunders. If you are not willing to do the greater commandments, do the lesser ones. If the burden of the greater is too much for you, take up the lesser. Why are you slow to do either? Why do you oppose both? The greater commandments are “Sell everything that you have and give to the poor and follow me.” The lesser are “You shall not commit murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not steal; honor your father and mother; love your neighbor as yourself.” So do these things. Why do I shout to you that you must sell your possessions when I cannot get you to admit that you should not take someone else’s? You have heard, “You shall not steal.” You rob. Before the eyes of so great a judge, I now hold you not a thief but a robber. Spare yourself; pity yourself. This life still gives you time. Don’t reject reproof. Yesterday you were a thief; do not also be one today. Perhaps you have also been one today? Do not be one tomorrow. Sometime end your sin and expect good reward. You want to have your goods, but you are unwilling to be good. Your life is contrary to your hopes. If it is a great good to have a good house, how great an evil is it to have an evil soul? (Sermon 85)

Pondering today’s Patristic passage...
Saint Augustine makes an interesting distinction in terms of the Commandments: greater and lesser. In doing so, he does not omit any Commandments nor does he hint that any of Them are optional. His point is reflective of the entire Matthean Gospel wherein Jesus is quite clear, ‘what you do to the least, you do to Me.’ Sacrificial giving to the poor (once again, the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy) helps to authentically live the Commandments and authentic living of the Commandments directs our lives to sacrificial giving to ease the burdens of the poor. The Sacred Text records that the rich young man “observed” or “kept” all the Commandments (notice the verb tense: “past” and it is “past” in the sense of a completed, single action). Since ‘the poor will always be with us’ (poor understood both materially and spiritually) such a work can never be relegated to the past nor can it be a single action. The same is with the Commandments: they are not activities on a To-Do list awaiting a mindless, heartless check-off. For Jesus’ disciples, the Commandments must reflect a way of life anchored in a heart that has been fully given to the God and Father of mercy.

O God,
Who have prepared for those who love You
good things which no eye can see,
fill our hearts, we pray,
with the warmth of Your love,
so that,
loving You in all things and above all things,
we may attain Your promises,
which surpass every human desire.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen