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Glancing Thoughts
28th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Year B
October 10, 2021
Eleonore Stump

Inheriting Eternal Life

In the Gospel Reading, a rich young man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In response, Jesus says to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor”.

Selling what you own is a pretty radical thing to do. Just think what you own: a house, a car, a bed. And that’s just the beginning, isn’t it? There’s also the computer, the cell phone, the TV—and on and on.

There are lots of gifts, gifts of learning, of music, of many other things.

Early in Christian history, people who sold everything they owned set up religious orders, so that they could live together and share what they needed. And so Jesus’ exhortation to sell what you have and give to the poor is usually taken as a call to religious life. Understood in that way, Jesus’ advice to the rich young man is one of the counsels of perfection. It explains what you have to do to be perfect in this life.

But here’s a puzzle worth noticing. You don’t have to be perfect to go to heaven. You don’t have to be a member of a religious order to go to heaven. But going to heaven is what the rich young man was asking Jesus about: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And so the answer Jesus gave the rich young man should have explained to him what you have to do to get to heaven. A counsel of perfection is by its nature not an answer to the rich young man’s question.

Or put it this way. If selling all he has and giving it to the poor is what the rich young man needs to do to inherit eternal life, what about everybody else? Does everybody have to sell what he has in order to attain heaven? If you don’t sell everything you have, are you going to hell?

The solution to the puzzle is to think about the description of the man asking Jesus the question: he is the rich young man. In other words, his gifts lie in his wealth. 

Now gifts are highly various. There are lots of gifts, gifts of learning, of music, of many other things. But whatever a person’s gifts are, they are meant to be given back in service to the Lord. You cannot bury your talent—your gifts—in the ground and hope to please the Lord. 

So here is what you need to do to inherit eternal life: You need to follow Jesus and use your gifts to the full when you do.

Eleonore Stump

Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University

Art by Martin Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go