Jesus is setting out on a journey. He invites a man to unload his baggage and join him. The man is sad because he has a lot of baggage which he loves very much. Jesus moves on without him.
Baggage or treasure?
I remember the story of a bag lady who carried her treasure in a shoe box. She protected it day and night. She was very fond of it and everyone wondered what the box contained. One day a tramp killed her for the box. Inside were some pieces of coloured string, a few dried flowers and some bottle tops. They were her treasure.
A young man came one night weeping - his wife had left him - he was devastated. I knew the couple well. He had one of those jobs which paid more and more money the harder you worked at it. He slaved day and night to pay off the enormous and really quite magnificent house he had built for his wife and two children but all she wanted was for him to spend time with his family. 'I don't care about the house, Father, I just want him home.' That young man lost his treasure in the divorce settlement.
A grandmother spoke of her grandchildren as her 'treasures'. She gave them all her time. She doted on them like a miser dotes on his gold. They 'owned' her and she was delighted to be owned. Some years later, however, she couldn't understand why they never visited her. She had been deserted by her treasures. She was very hurt and terribly lonely.
We all have our treasures - what's yours? It's a serious question. What is your treasure? What do you give your time, your energy, your love to mostly?
Many years ago I knew an Italian man who had retired. I visited him occasionally. The first thing he always did was take me into his vegetable garden. It was rather large and very lovingly tended. It was his treasure. I used to ask him to come to Mass but he wouldn't. His wife told me 'He spends all day Sunday in his vegetable garden'. When he fell from a ladder and had a brain haemorrhage he kept his bedroom curtain drawn so he wouldn't have to look at the pitiful mess his beloved garden had become.
So what is your treasure?
For the man in the gospel today it was his wealth and it seems he was very wealthy. And yet, he wanted more. Jesus loved him for that.
This man wanted eternal life (don't we all?) and he wanted to know from Jesus what he had to do to get it. Jesus answers him: You know the commandments - and then very obligingly lists a good number of them. They become for the man a kind of list of achievements! Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days. Jesus recognises this man is serious about his salvation and responds: There is one thing you lack.
Now surely, this is an earth-shattering challenge to the man (and to us). It is the heart of the gospel this week. There is one thing you lack! Your list is short by one!
Let me ask you, what is it, precisely, that this man lacked? My answer would be that he did not yet have a proper relationship to his treasure and therefore could not yet have a full relationship to God. Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me... (Mt 10:37). And we might add 'Anyone who prefers any treasure to me, whether it be money, house, grandchildren or vegetable garden, is not worthy of me.'
It is commonly known that most Catholics prefer to watch an hour's television rather than pray for ten minutes; to read huge novels rather than a tiny book about the faith; to fly between cities to watch football matches rather than travel 15kms to church; to spend $50 in a pub or restaurant rather than put $10 on a collection plate. And we are not talking about bad people here. These are good people (a bit like us) - but there is one thing they lack. They haven't (yet) developed a proper relationship between God and their treasure. Like the man in the Gospel they want eternal life but not 'that' much.
And so the man is left behind while Jesus continues his journey. How sad! The man goes away to his vegetable garden, to his big house, to his grandchildren, to his shoe box full of treasures - not worthy of the One to whom he prefers his treasure.
And for us the lesson is clear. Our relationship with God must be our greatest, our prime relationship, the one which gives meaning to all our other relationships. If it is not so for us we doom ourselves to go hungrily seeking for substitutes which invariably disappoint - a succession of dashed hopes and new infatuations, leaving us empty and cynical. When we come to think of it, our relationship with God is the one thing we take with us into the next life - all else will be left behind. Shouldn't we cultivate it while we can?
The invitation and challenge is clear. Jesus is asking each one of us to give priority to God in our lives and to get rid of all that we love more than him, everything which prevents us from saying yes to his wonderful invitation: and then: come follow me.