“What good must I do to gain eternal life?”

Most of us wonder from time to time what God asks of us and what it takes to gain eternal life. In Matthew 19: 16-22, Jesus tells a young man asking that very question: “Keep the commandments.” When the young man asks Jesus for specifics, Jesus names the commandments:

“You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
honor your father and your mother;
and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Then the young man says the he has kept all of these commandments. “What do I still lack?” he asks. Then Jesus tells the young man: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this point, the young man walks away sadly, because he has many possessions.

This is the reading for today’s Mass in the Catholic Church, but Matthew continues the story  telling his disciples that it is very hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God — “It is easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

I continually run into people who stress keeping the commandments, but they often forget Jesus’ admonition to give up all they possess and give to the poor. Some even deny that Jesus commands them to give to the poor, preferring to demonize the poor and glorify the rich. Yet Jesus says right here in Matthew that living by the commandments isn’t enough and that being rich is likely an impediment to getting into heaven.

Farther down in Matthew (19: 29-30) Jesus tells his disciples, “Everyone who has given up home, brothers or sisters, father or mother, wife or children or property for my sake will receive many times as much and inherit everlasting life. Many who are first shall come last, and the last shall come first.”

I also hear people ask what life is about, why we are put here on Earth. From all that I’ve read in the Gospels, it occurs to me that God put each of us on Earth not to build possessions for our sole amusement but to share with others for the benefit of all. We’re here to help each other. If God is generous to us, he expects us to be generous with others. All others. To “love your neighbor as yourself.” Remember, Jesus said that was the second most important commandment.

What good must we do? Although living the commandments is important so is loving others, loving them enough to be our “brother’s and sister’s keepers” — even when they aren’t our blood brothers and sisters.


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