On Living Consecrated Lives

The Question: Jesus called the rich young man to follow Him in the obedience of a disciple, in the observance of the Commandments, in poverty and in chastity. The Catechism teaches that these evangelical counsels cannot be separated from the Ten Commandments. Within the Catholic Church there are many who voluntarily take vows to live consecrated lives guided by the evangelical counsels. Isn't this what Jesus commanded?

The Response: The Catholic Church draws from the account of Jesus' encounter with the Rich Young Man to support its doctrine concerning the so-called evangelical counsels.

2052. "'Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?' To the young man who asked this question, Jesus answers first by invoking the necessity to recognize God as the 'One there is who is good,' as the supreme Good and the source of all good. Then Jesus tells him: 'If you would enter life, keep the commandments.' And he cites for his questioner the precepts that concern love of neighbor: 'You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.' Finally Jesus sums up these commandments positively: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'[Mt 19:16-19 .]"

2053. "To this first reply Jesus adds a second: 'If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.'[Mt 19:21 .] This reply does not do away with the first: following Jesus Christ involves keeping the Commandments. The Law has not been abolished,[Cf. Mt 5:17 .] but rather man is invited to rediscover it in the person of his Master who is its perfect fulfillment. In the three synoptic Gospels, Jesus' call to the rich young man to follow him, in the obedience of a disciple and in the observance of the Commandments, is joined to the call to poverty and chastity.[Cf. Mt 19:6-12, 21, 23-29 .] The evangelical counsels are inseparable from the Commandments."Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition, 1994/1997, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

There is no call to poverty or chastity in the Matthew 19:16-26 passage. Sure, Jesus told the young man to sell all he had and give to the poor but the context makes clear that He knew the young man would not do that. The lesson is not about poverty or chastity.

I suppose I should thank the inquirer for providing such an excellent example of the hazards of proof texting. No passage of the Bible stands alone. The Scriptures are a coherent whole, one book of collected books, all by the same Author. When examining a passage, the careful exegete must not view it as a singularity. He must view it in relation to the whole of Scripture. God is not inconsistent. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, there is not a single conflict.

If it were so that, in the passage the CCC cites (Matthew 16-25), Jesus is teaching the young ruler and, by extension, all mankind that they must keep the Law as represented by the Decalogue, this would negate the Gospel. Christ's sacrifice at Calvary would be meaningless and the New Covenant of Grace would be valueless.

The Law was given as a teacher, that we might know what sin is. God gave but 613 laws to Moses. I have encountered several Orthodox Jewish rabbis who consider the Ten Utterances of the Decalogue to be general categories under which the other 603 might be organized. The rules of the game were simple: keep all the Laws, all the time, and you will live eternally in God's presence. Simple, but impossible to fulfill.

It seemed too easy so, over the years, scribes, scholars and rabbis studied each of the laws and came up with incredibly complex auxiliary rules to help ensure none would be broken. The body of manmade rules, or traditions, expanded and grew until it was difficult to know and understand. So the scribes, scholars and rabbis studied some more, and they came up with rules for conforming to the rules for conforming to God's 613 laws. Eventually, there were rules for the rules for the rules for the Law and so on. And as a consequence of the Babylonian captivity, there came to be two sets of the rules and rules and rules. Who could know the Law now that it had been expanded so by man's interpreting of God's 613 clear and simple laws?

Under Pharisaical Judaism, it had become absolutely impossible for anyone to keep all the Law, but I doubt this surprised God, Who already knew no one could perfectly keep the Law. We know this is so from the many references to the impossibility of this in Paul's writings and elsewhere in the New Testament. Don't believe me? Use your electronic concordance, or one of the online ones, and search under the variables "guilty" and "Law". Just read in the books that follow after Acts. You will find dozens of occurrences where the Apostle teaches that the Law is impossible to fulfill and that it was given as a teacher. But search again. This time your variables should be "teacher" and "law". More of the same. A concordance search is but an opening step in sound hermeneutics, but it is sufficient to my purpose here.

Take just one key passage from Paul's letter to the church at Rome in illustration:

19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus
Romans 3:20-24

Look again at verse 20. There is no justification, no salvation, under the Law. That being the case, why would Jesus be telling that young ruler he could have eternal life by keeping all the Law? If this is what Jesus indeed was doing, then either Jesus is a deceiver, or the writers of the synoptic Gospels are liars, or Paul is a liar or God is a liar or the Holy Spirit is a liar.

Or the Roman Catholic interpretation is in error.

Let's go back to the Matthew passage. Matthew is a book written by a Jew about a Jew and intended for Jews. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the book is filled with Jewish idioms and cultural references.

The rich young man may have been a Pharisee, though we cannot know for certain, for their self-righteous piety was well-known and often assailed by Jesus. He came to Jesus as a teacher sent by God, perhaps possessed of the secrets for eternal life. Jesus rebuked him for addressing Him as "good," driving home the lesson that only God is good and the corollary that all men are sinners. That must have smarted, for this young fellow apparently was unwilling to confess his own spiritual bankruptcy.

He had wealth, position and seemed full of his own self-righteousness. This young man, a Jew, asked what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus responded by telling him what every Jew should have known; that he must keep the commandments. Every Jew of the day would have known that God demanded full obedience to the Law, and they would have known the impossibility of so doing. Yet the man responded, no doubt with smug assurance, that he had done all that since he was a kid. He would not admit to his own sin. He wanted to know what more was required of him.

Jesus no doubt could see into the man's heart and knew that he was not blameless under the Law, because he was guilty of loving himself and his possessions more than his neighbors. No doubt the Master also judged that he lacked true faith, which involves a willingness to give up all if Christ but ask it of him (Cf. Matthew 10:38; 16:24). In other words, the young ruler was talking the talk, but not walking the walk.

When Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give the proceeds to the poor, this was not a lesson in salvation by philanthropy. It seems clear that He was demanding that He be given first place in the young man's life. The fellow failed the test.

When Jesus said to him, "Follow Me," He was answering the question asked in verse 16. His answer was a call to faith. That is the way to eternal life. The only way. The young man likely never even heard Christ's words, his own love for his worldly goods being so great a stumbling block that he already had rejected Jesus' claim to lordship over his life and just walked away.

This passage does not teach keeping the Law for salvation; for elsewhere in the Scriptures it is clear that we are not under Law but grace. To be under grace and yet seeking righteousness under the Law would be serving two masters, and that is a no-no (Matthew 6:24)

There is no indication in the passage of a call to either poverty or chastity. To discover such is eisegesis, not exegesis.

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