28th Sunday Of Ordinary Time.
14TH October 2012
Mark 10; 17-30
We hear in the Gospel reading this weekend how wealth and leisure kept a young man from becoming a disciple of Jesus. We are gathered here at mass because we are disciples of Jesus; but we don’t always follow Him as closely as we should; something prevents us; and that something is probably different for each one of us. We need to reflect on what that something might be!
In response to the young man’s question about inheriting eternal life; Jesus instructs him to: “Keep the commandments.”
For Jesus, keeping the commandments is just the bare minimum. He sees that this man is capable of more; in fact he is capable of greatness. So he says to him; “If you want to be perfect, sell what you have, give the money to the poor, and then come and follow me.”
The young man stands on the brink of a new and exciting world. However he realizes that he cannot enter this new world and take the plunge of faith, without saying good-bye to his old world. He hesitates. He thinks about it. He looks back at the old world, and begins to weigh up the things he will have to leave. Sadly he realizes he can’t do it. There is too much in that old world which he loves and wants to hold onto. So he refuses Jesus’ invitation.
The message is about our choices. What is it that we really need to possess to live a “good life” and inherit eternal life?
The readings seem to say that our focus should not so much be on the material things around us, but on what is inside us. We want to be in God’s favor, to follow Jesus, and to have eternal life. The reading from Hebrews says that the Word of God “can judge the secret emotions and thoughts of the heart.” So what are we thinking when we make our choices; all hoping to “get into” heaven? Further on in this Gospel we read/hear that being saved “is impossible for human beings, but not for God.” It may be hard for us to hear it, but God does the saving, not us! In fact, nothing we do earns us salvation; Jesus has already won that for us. Our job is to rid ourselves of the focus on “ourselves” and then focus on God and God’s ways. A reminder that those pearly gates swing open from the inside!
Jesus gives us more than a hint of what to do when he says “sell what you have, give to the poor”. He doesn’t mean that a disciple must be destitute; resorting to a life of begging. The life of the poor, with its hardships and suffering, is not set out in Mark’s Gospel as an ideal for the Christian disciple. But neither is the focused desire for possessions and the accumulation of wealth.
The Jews believed that the prosperity of the rich was a sign of God’s blessing; but in contradiction Jesus presents wealth as a stumbling block to the kingdom. Love of material possessions and comforts is one of the chief obstacles in the way of true discipleship. Those who trust solely in themselves and their possessions can never be saved.
There is nothing we can do on our own which will earn us entry to the Kingdom. Yes, God will, as Jesus says, reward us a hundred-fold for the sacrifices we make on his behalf. But these sacrifices are less acceptable if they are made merely to earn our way into heaven. When made for love, when made as an expression of true faith in God, when made freely and generously without thought of reward, only then will they gain us the treasure we seek. Jesus wants us to love him without strings attached. He wants us to love him for his own sake. So we are invited to step into the unknown with our hands open, invited to take the plunge of faith, invited to commit our whole lives to God freely and without thought of reward.
Jesus never condemns material wealth or earthly goods in themselves. After all some of his closest friends on earth must have been well off and lived comfortable lives. He never asked Mary and Martha to sell their home and follow him. Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man. The only person that Jesus is recorded in all the Gospels to have asked to give up his wealth and give it to the poor was the young man in today’s Gospel passage. And he turned Jesus down.
Fr Cantalamessa reflects that what Jesus condemns is exaggerated attachment to money and property; to make one’s life depend on these and to accumulate riches only for oneself. Money has the danger of creating an alternative world where Faith Hope and Charity are no longer placed in God, but in money.
Jesus’ encounter with the rich man and Jesus’ teaching on wealth issue a challenge to us this weekend. If our identity is locked into our possessions, who are we when our possessions are taken away from us? And this can happen so easily. Like the rich man, attachment to our possessions can soon lead to us being possessed by our attachments. If this happens we are no longer free to accept Christ’s invitation when called to join him on the journey to salvation. For most of us this is a work in progress.
Pope Benedict, in his apostolic letter, Porta Fidei, referring to the Year of Faith that begins this weekend, writes that the “door of faith is always open to us. To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime”. It is a message about choices, though. What we should strive for is to accept and thus possess the wisdom to discern what in our lives will help us focus more and more on God. Focusing on God means trusting that we are in His loving care, no matter what our physical circumstances, possessions, or other broadly taken indications of wealth might seem to indicate. The “poor” includes those who seem to lack physical, emotional, or spiritual solidness, and that is all of us. We need to strive for a fuller understanding that we are all “poor”; we are all in God’s loving care, and caring for one another is how to follow Jesus and do the will of the Father.
Jesus demands the best of us as he did of that young man. He will not allow us to settle for anything less. The challenge- “If you wish to be perfect’ – is issued to us too. However, the things we might be called upon to sacrifice in order to take up that challenge could vary for each of us. We have to look into our own hearts to see what it is that we would have to give up in order to respond; accepting Jesus’ challenge.
Our presence at every mass brings us face to face with these difficult questions. We are reminded that life is a pilgrimage to God’s eternal kingdom.
We come together to listen to the Word of God, and receive the Eucharist. But we must remember that salvation is always God’s achievement. Again we are reminded; those who trust only in themselves and their possessions can never be saved. Those who trust in the saving power and redeeming love of God can enter freely into salvation.
The door of faith is always open to us.