He replied and said to him, "Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth."
Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
I have long believed that to be the saddest four words in all of Sacred Scripture: he went away sad. I am not hallucinating about the sadness, for it is stated right there. Though it is the young man who is sad, it is our sadness, too. In general, we do not want anyone to be sad. Especially, we do not want anyone who has encountered Jesus to be sad. Even though we hardly know this young man, we do not want him to be sad.
That is not the only source of our sadness, for the young man goes away. He leaves Jesus, who is the one and only person who can make him truly happy! He cuts off all further conversation, any help he could have been given by the Lord, any understanding he could have garnered by spending more time.
But note the subject of this short sentence: he. The young man himself is the one who acts, the one who goes away, the one who responds to the Lord Jesus by being sad. It is his decision to choose the sadness.
Jesus, too, is the subject of a sentence; and He chooses His course of action as well: Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, "You are lacking in one thing.”
In our day it is popularly considered a rejection of the person to observe that he lacks something important or fundamental. Common culture has made the expectation that what love says is, you’re great just the way you are. We can be fooled into saying this to any number of people who are living in any number of ways, because we think that is what love does. To know Jesus, is to know otherwise.
It is true that Jesus told the rich young man, who was not only wealthy but virtuous, that he lacked something. But it sprung from His love for him, first, to notice what he lacked; and second, to tell him. He could have left unmentioned that the young man fell short, but He did not – because of His decision to love Him. And so when the young man chose to walk away from what the Lord observed that he lacked, he also walked away from that great love. God is indeed love, but love calls us to change.
It is perhaps the most difficult question we can ask, but have you ever stopped to try to hear what Jesus might have to say that you lack? Are you ready for the likely possibility that he will indeed answer your question?
But we should not be afraid to ask, and should not fear the answer, because we know that in asking, we give him the opportunity to do what he did to the young man: He looked at him, and loved him. This is not only explanation but motivation for us to accept His observation of what we lack, and act to remedy it.
We may think we cannot change; we may think we cannot respond to love. Which means we need to hear what Jesus told the disciples shortly after the young man left: "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God." This may be the most encouraging statement in all of Sacred Scripture.