1 Peter 1:3-9; Mark 10:17-27
General Dwight D. Eisenhower was a great leader for many reasons, not least of which was the way he treated those under his command. During the Second World War he made it a habit to be around his soldiers, to walk and talk with them, get to know them, and to honestly answer their questions. He knew he owed them no less, for he was ordering them into a battle that would cost many their life.
He also knew that just like him they lived according to certain principles, one being that there are things are worth dying for. Ask any soldier what those are and they will say the same things: Love of country; of family; of freedom; of God. We should remember that military oaths of office in our country have historically ended with the words, “So help me God.”
In His infinite mercy, God does help; most of all by sending His only Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ who also made it a habit to be around people, to walk and talk with them, and to honestly answer their questions. Of course, the man in today’s gospel wasn’t a soldier but he did take part in that holy war we all fight – the inner battle between what we want and what is good. He too lived by certain principles. Jesus named several: He honored his parents, took no lives, told the truth, lived chastely, and respected others’ property. Many people would call that a good, honest life.
But Christ isn’t many people and He judges by His own standards. That is why when He looked at the man He asked him to let his wealth go. We know what happened next. This was a bridge too far; the soldier sounded retreat and went away sad. Only Jesus was sadder, he knew that for the sake of escaping a battle that man risked losing the war.
That man isn’t alone; this is our fight too and we could ask the same question of Christ. So then let us ask ourselves, “What does Christ want me to let go of? What do I most value?” It might be wealth but it might be a number of other things: Our time; our talent; our social standing; our pride; our privilege.
General-turned-President Eisenhower said at his inauguration: “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.” As we look at civil societies like ancient Greece or Rome, we find that at least some of the decay that led to their implosion started within; a weakening of the moral fiber that bound them one to another and enabled them to forget the principles that made them great to begin with.
As for Christian society, the “City of God”, what made it great and the only thing that can keep it great is the faith handed down to it. This is why St. Peter calls the faith more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:7). He is speaking about faith in Christ and the power of His resurrection, which is the ultimate principle of life. Through faith we love Him although we have not seen Him; by faith we walk toward Him as our ultimate goal; in faith we hope one day to be united with Him in heavenly glory.
The men and women who we remember today may or may not have had faith in Christ, but in the end what matters is that somehow He spoke to them. In some way known only to Him, Jesus answered their life questions by asking them to be willing to configure themselves to Him; if need be to let go of everything, including their lives, that others may live. Of course, God is never outdone in generosity; we know by the same faith handed on from Peter that each of these fallen soldiers has gone to meet Him face to face and, if so willing, have come to understand the value of the great truth that has confounded mankind throughout the centuries: That only by dying to ourselves do we most truly live; only by letting go of what we want the most do we hold onto what is most truly important: Eternal union with God who is Love itself.