Many years ago, during the lifetime of Bernard Leach, the greatest Western craft potter of modern times, a ceramics teacher showed slides of Leach’s work to his own students.  To his surprise and disappointment they made little or no comment….  But he noticed that from that time on they kept  few of their own pieces! - they returned them to the lump because they could see now how uninspired their pieces were!  That is what happens when you see the work of a master.  It becomes easier to give up things because you see how little you are giving up; in fact you can hardly wait to give it up, because you want to keep the coast clear for a thing of real value. 
    We all plod our way as best we can.  We try to keep the commandments, or at least not to disown them formally.  We even manage to give body to one or other of the Beatitudes.  But where is the inspiration?  Inspiration is that magic ingredient without which there can be satisfaction, yes, but no joy.  An ancient pagan poet, a contemporary of Christ, wrote, "There is a God within us, and we glow when he stirs us."  Why don’t we Christians glow more?  There are some who do, but why so few when we have the very Spirit of God living within us? 
    Look at the rich young man mentioned in Mark 10:17-22.  He came running up to Jesus, and with totally exaggerated courtesy (there is only one parallel to it in Jewish literature, and that in the 4th century A.D.) asked him what he must do, etc.  Full marks for enthusiasm, but not a lot for follow-through!  You can imagine him running up to any and every new teacher, and turning away disappointed when they asked him to change his life.  He wanted religion as entertainment, not as challenge. Some of us avoid the challenge by refusing to change, others by changing all the time.  We feel we will have to give up too much.  But the strange thing is that it's much easier to give up something than to think about giving it up!  "The more a person gives up the easier it is to give up," said Meister Eckhart in the 14th century. "One who loves God could give up the whole world as easily as an egg."
    Unless I have given up something with joy I haven't really given it up: its shadow is still over me.  And of course I will see myself as a bit of a martyr: "If you only knew what I've had to go through!"  This doesn’t set anyone free, least of all oneself.  I have to look beyond.  I have to be attracted beyond my self-imposed limits and expectations, I have to have seen the Master at work, I have to know the inspiration of the Holy Spirit within me.  
    Matthew and Luke write simply, “Jesus answered...”, but Mark writes, “Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and said....”  From Matthew and Luke you get the impression that that rich young man was a write-off.  True, he is never heard of again in the New Testament, but could anyone whom Jesus loved be a write-off?  Jesus did not demand perfection of him; he just held it before him as an invitation.  An invitation is an invitation, not a command.  There are ages and stages in our life, and the Lord has more patience with us than we have with ourselves or with one another.
    All three Gospel writers say that the rich man became “sad.”  They didn't need to say that Jesus was sad, because it was so obvious.

Donagh O'Shea

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.