Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Rich young man seeking happiness (Mt 19:16-24)

The question  the rich young man poses to Jesus is one every Christian should ask. It is a question not only about eternity but also about happiness here and now. And Jesus gives a very concrete answer: "If you want to enter life, keep the commandments... You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and mother." At the end, Jesus summarizes these commandments in a positive way: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 19:16-19).

This answer is meant for us, and it encapsulates a long tradition: the Ten Commandments, God’s law. Jesus shows us how the commandments speak the truth about human beings: our capacity to love and go great good, as well as our potential for evil. It might seem obvious, but Jesus teaches us to do good and avoid evil.

We find good in the commandments, and evil in violating them. We don’t invent good and evil: they’re inherent in the nature of things. Our intellect can know or ignore them, and our heart can embrace or reject them.

The Ten Commandments can actually be summarized in one: love. Saint Paul says that the commandments “are summed up in this saying: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:9-10)

In other words, behind these precepts is an invitation to bring out the best in ourselves. That’s love, which isn’t just a feeling but a response that includes all the goodness inside of us.

These are the commandments, succinctly put:

1. You shall love God above all things.

2. You shall not take the name of God in vain.

3. Remember to keep the Sabbath holy.

4. Honor your father and your mother.

5. You shall not kill.

6. You shall not commit adultery.

7. You shall not steal.

8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.

10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.

The majority are expressed in a negative form, "You shall not do such-and-such a thing," but this is an imperfect and limited way of expressing what is contained in the first commandment: we are to love God.

But wait: is this an arbitrary law imposed on us from the outside? Do limits placed on our actions restrict our freedom? Saint Irenaeus says something interesting: "From the beginning, God had placed in the hearts of men the precepts of the natural law. He was content to remind them of these. This was the Decalogue." These words remind us that the commandments are not a human invention: they’re inscribed in human nature. Jesus’ revelation helps us understand good and evil better. So the commandments come from inside, not outside, and they are a warning, because our nature can turn against itself. That’s evil.

Some aspects of human life change over time, while others remain the same throughout history. Cultures change, fashions change, ways of organizing peoples and nations change, and so on. But neither God nor human nature changes. In the case of man and woman, our nature is the image and likeness of God, and this means that we have “traces of God,” his goodness, immensity, and beauty, in our way of being. We’re also able to act against that nature. The Decalogue shows us the way to freely direct ourselves toward the fullness we’ve been called to.

And yet… We find it difficult to keep the commandments. Perhaps some become more burdensome than others at certain moments in life. And in the face of difficulty, an existential dilemma may arise: Am I God’s slave, or am I his child? The dilemma can be formulated in different ways: are these laws really from God, or are they cultural inventions? Is eternity a utopian dream, or do we really go to an eternal destiny after death?

We each have to walk our own path to get to the answer to these crucial questions, and resolve them as best we can. Faith, which is also trust, shortens the journey and makes it easier to choose God as the answer to our questions.