This passage contains a number of sayings of Jesus, related to the theme of wealth. In the Catholic tradition, it is the basis for the evangelical counsels, or the choices a person must make if he or she chooses to follow Jesus more closely.
The narrative proceeds as a dialogue, with one question leading to another, as Jesus progressively invites a rich young Jewish man to greater generosity.
The rich young man desires a better, fuller life. He calls it ‘eternal life’, not in the sense of life after death, but rather for a life that does not fail or disappoint, and is changeless, much like the Jews perceived God to be. It is an ethical quest, so Jesus refers him to the commandments.
Has the young man observed them all?
The man has kept them all faithfully. That’s why he wonders, what am I still lacking?
Jesus then gives him a clear and unambiguous choice: “if you wish to go the whole way, go, sell what you own and give to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; and come, follow me.”
The young man is invited to become a disciple. But sadly, he turns down the invitation, for he is a man of great wealth.
There are two demands that Jesus makes unfailingly of his disciples: Give up family. Give up your possessions. In the ancient world, family was all important; no one could survive without it. And whether it’s the ancient or the modern world, we’re all attached to our possessions – wealth, property, education or reputation.
The cost of discipleship is high indeed.