When I was much younger and more active I used to enjoy camping. I would carry all I needed in a rucksack. Sometimes I would walk several miles and on other occasions I would cycle much further. I soon learnt the need to travel as light as possible, taking only the basic necessities. A heavy load would have exhausted me. There was a certain freedom in this simple, uncluttered life-style.
I think my experience of hiking and cycling to campsites sheds some light on today's Gospel. The rich man was a good Jew, observing the Law. He would have seen his wealth as a blessing from God, a reward for his virtue. He was generous hearted, and wanted to do more than meet the basic requirements of God's Law. So he rushed to Jesus, knelt before him and asked, 'Good master. What must I do to inherit eternal life?'
Responding to his generous enthusiasm, Jesus looked at him steadily with love, took him at his word and called his bluff. Surprisingly, he told the rich man that there was one thing he lacked. He must sell all his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor and follow him. That was not what the rich man wanted to hear. He had hoped to attain eternal life, without having to sacrifice his present comfortable life style, with the status and security they provided.
So what was he lacking? I suppose we could say that he wanted to play safe and so was unwilling to leave the 'comfort zone' provided by his prosperity.
Almost certainly he would already have given alms to the poor -but only in so far as that caused him no great inconvenience. But Jesus challenged him to go much further - to give the needy the proceeds from the sale of all, not some, of his worldly possessions. Then he must share the insecurity of Christ himself, the wandering preacher, who had nowhere to lay his head. Jesus was calling him to travel light with him and not be held back by unnecessary clutter. But the rich man was not prepared to make that kind of painful sacrifice.
Jesus doesn't ask everyone to embrace such absolute poverty. That's a special vocation, to which only a few are called. Most people need to earn a living and have family responsibilities, which they shouldn't abandon. And there's certainly no harm in enjoying the good things in life in moderation. Nevertheless, in different ways we are all called to follow Christ with total commitment.
Wealth can make that very difficult. The acquisition of possessions can so easily dominate our lives. We can come to think that they can provide us with a happiness and security, which only God can give. The desire for material prosperity can easily distort our judgment as to what is most important in life -seeking first the Kingdom of God. Being preoccupied with wealth will blind us to what God is offering us. Only he can give us lasting security, happiness and peace. He wants us to seek nothing but the very best, and be content with nothing less. Those who think their wealth makes them self-sufficient are especially likely to think they can manage very well without God. Only with God's help can we look beyond what we can see, hold and touch and place our hope in the invisible God.
A radical change in our lives may force us to revise our priorities. That's certainly true if a serious accident or illness deprives us of the strength we'd taken for granted. Gradually old age and then death will strip us of the worldly supports upon which we had relied. We will be forced to recognise that God alone won't let us down. In him alone can we place complete trust.
If we've learnt to travel light on our life-long journey to the Kingdom of Heaven we will find it far easier to follow Christ, who gained the fullness of life and the glory of heaven by being emptied of everything on the cross.
Needing to travel light on my camping expeditions certainly taught me it's far better to need little than to have much. There's something liberating in not being weighed down by excess baggage. That's especially true when following Christ.