"Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said… At that statement his face fell and he went away sad...” The Gospel seems to be full of stories of folks wherein a glimpse of Jesus’ face or a word from or encounter with him completely changes their lives. They are healed, forgiven, restored, inspired. This changes everything!
The young man in today’s reading is that rare exception and we find it troubling. But let’s use this worrisome episode as an invitation into the story. Often the very things that puzzle or disturb us in scripture are the things that can reveal new meaning.
Today’s story is only sad if it ends there and, indeed, it may have. The young man may have grown old in that same frame of mind or even died young before reconsidering. But how much more like our God to continue to hold that RSVP open. How much more like our own experience of God for there to be more to the story. The invitation today is to imagine the rest of that story. What happened to that young man who went away sad?
Did his possessions hold the same allure for him that they had before? Did regret and sadness continue to fill him? Was he able to replace sadness with happiness in the things that he prized? Can possessions ever do that? How did the passage of time affect him? Did he continue to "follow” the ministry of Jesus? How aware was he of what Jesus said and did? What did he say when he got home to whomever was waiting? What comfort, advice, questions might he have received from his family and friends? Did most of them agree with him or not?
Now let’s have some fun and use your imagination to be specific with some details.
Imagine a life for him—a name, career, family, and friends. Imagine just one of that group who challenges his choice to walk away. What was there conversation like? How did the young man respond? Choose another point in Jesus’ life and imagine the young man is there: e.g. he sees the triumphal entry into Jerusalem: he’s lingering in the temple and hears Jesus’ words about the widow’s mite; he is there at the crucifixion as Jesus promises Heaven to the dying thief; he is in the crowd when Peter speaks at the first Pentecost; etc. How does the young man react to what he sees? What are his feelings?
Imagine a time forty years into the future when he is an old man and a young man comes to him and asks, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?” What does he say?