Christ and the Rich Young Man,
Painted by Heinrich Hofmann (1824-1911),
Oil on canvas,
Painted in 1889
© Purchased by John D Rockefeller Jr, now at Riverside Church, New York
Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor
Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You must not kill; You must not commit adultery; You must not steal; You must not bring false witness; You must not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, ‘There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.
Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were astounded by these words, but Jesus insisted, ‘My children,’ he said to them ‘how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were more astonished than ever. ‘In that case’ they said to one another ‘who can be saved?’ Jesus gazed at them. ‘For men’ he said ‘it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.’
Reflection on the Painting
Today’s reading has all to do with eternal life and our entry into the Kingdom of God. First Jesus tells the rich young man to obey the commandments. In our painting we see the man in lavish dress responding that he already observes the commandments. He asks what else he can do. Jesus’ response is challenging: ‘If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me’. All we know is that the young man went away sad. We don’t know what happened to him after. We don’t know if he followed Jesus’ advice or not…
Jesus of course did not want to trick this good young man or be after his riches. No: He was simply calling him to a life of perfection. For the rich man it was by way of separation of his attachment to his many worldly goods. I think all of us can identify with the young man, as we all have some level of possessions, even if we don’t call ourselves rich. So this calling to a life of perfection is there for all of us to aim for.
I am just imagining the long walk home the rich young man had after having heard these words from Jesus. He must have reflected on what to do. He went away restless. At least he wasn't hypocritical. He did not pretend he could give everything up, when he could not. He knew exactly what Christ meant and what was asked of him: Christ's high demands and his own desires were maybe incompatible for him at that moment in time.
Our painting by Heinrich Hofmann conveys a slight sadness in the rich man. He is looking away from Christ towards the ground, towards earth. Maybe he chose to keep the earthly possessions? A poor couple is watching on on the left. Jesus is gently pointing towards them…
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Readings related to Mark 10:17-27
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