In Luke 18, a wealthy man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He goes on to declare that he already obeys the commandments. Only then, “when Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own, and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, the man was very sad because he was very rich. Seeing this, Jesus said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” In the subsequent discussion, apparently seeking to be reassured, Peter points out that he and the other disciples have in fact given up everything to follow Jesus. Jesus affirms their decision: “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

My take on this story: It’s not about helping the poor or the evils of wealth or whether rich people can get to heaven. Nor is it intended as an entree into second level discussions about how much we have a right to set aside for ourselves, or the elimination of wealth disparities, or the eradication of poverty, or even having appropriate detachment and gratitude towards the wealth we do have. Those are important subjects, but this is about something more important: Jesus calls us to follow him without reservation. He calls us to the complete surrender of our own will and self-interest to his will. It is a response of total obedience and consecration to Jesus. Two role models come to mind: the young virgin Mary who embraced without hesitation the incredible message of the angel Gabriel, and the obedience of Abraham to Cod’s terrifying command to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. At the back end of such decisions, we might expect to be transformed to a new level of love in our earthly relations, and things might even work out just fine, although not necessarily as we might have originally hoped. But those are not the goal — the goal is the surrender to God’s will.

It’s quite possible that I, and perhaps even you, would not have the faith or guts to respond like Mary or Abraham, or to give up all your wealth. Or to follow in the footsteps of a modern unofficial saint like Dorothy Day, or the thousands of faceless monastics who spend their days in prayer, or the many more thousands of priests who administer the sacraments that bind us to the mystical Body of Christ. I believe we should always pray for the grace to do more for the Kingdom. Perhaps the best I will be granted will be the privilege of being pretty nice most of the time. If so, then I must accept that in humility. But may I never succumb to the reassuring temptation to believe that Jesus just calls us to be nice (as I once heard in a homily!). No, no, he calls us to total transformation.