11 October 2015
Hebrews 4:12 – 13
Mark 10:17 – 30
Once I was flying to Nigeria via London Heathrow. Next to me was a young man who told me that he was on his way to the USA. There he hoped to get a job. His ambition was to make lots of money and if possible to become wealthy. In that way he felt he would be very happy and could achieve whatever he wanted in life.
Many people today set great value on having or acquiring wealth. Bookshops are full of books on how to get rich quickly. Many people, many Catholics, buy lottery tickets in the hope of becoming rich. And provided I keep the commandments and I am a morally good person, what’s wrong with being rich?
The gospel today speaks to us about the danger of this attitude. A rich man comes up to Jesus, kneels at his feet and sincerely asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. He is full of enthusiasm and Jesus looks at him with kindness and with love. In answer to Jesus’ statement about keeping the commandments and he names some, the rich man says that he has kept them faithfully since his earliest days. Maybe he expects Jesus to affirm and congratulate him for this. We admire the man. Are we are like him having done our best to keep the commandments too and tried to live morally good lives? Maybe we have attended retreats or belong to a prayer group. Perhaps we feel God has blessed us much.
Then Jesus gently challenges the young man. “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you have. Give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me”. The rich man went away sad for he had many possessions. Jesus has a way of looking at people. The eyes of Christ penetrate our hearts so that he sees what we lack. The second reading notes that ‘everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of God’. God knows what are the things that hold us back from giving ourselves fully and completely to God. God knows our resistances. The first commandment tells us that we must love the Lord our God with all our hearts and there are no exceptions to this. That is what is asked of anyone wanting to be a true disciple of Jesus.
The danger with the rich man was that he saw his keeping of the commandments and living a morally good life as an indication of his own personal achievement. Like many good Christians the young man wanted God on his terms. Jesus takes discipleship out of the area of personal achievement. Jesus is telling him and us that it is more than that. We cannot just have God on our terms. We must hear what God wants of us
Somehow one has the impression the emphasis was on himself and his own individual perfection. He kept the rules, he was free from sin. He loved God not unconditionally but on his own terms. He was truly shocked at the words of Jesus. His wealth meant more to him that his being perfect or gaining true life.
Jesus was also telling the rich man that his wealth was not something to be just owned but to be shared, most especially with the poor. True religion and discipleship of Jesus must involve concern and caring for others. The man’s religion seemed to be a private matter between him and God. Jesus tells him it is far more. We cannot love God unless we love our brother and sister in need.
Money, of course, is not the only thing which can keep us from God. I am not fully a disciple of Jesus – whether I am keeping the commandments or not – if there is any thing or person in my life that I am not prepared to let go of. The man was really being asked to let go of something to which he was deeply attached. In the case of many it may not be money or material goods. It may be a person, a wrong relationship, a lover, something I own, a place, my health, my reputation etc.
But letting go of all selfish attachments requires a decision. And decisions do not come easily. We pray, we struggle, we weep, we go back and forth. We weigh things. To surrender to Jesus can be very difficult and at times seemingly impossible. But God is compassionate and knows our struggles.
The disciples with Jesus were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves: ‘who can be saved?’ Jesus looked on them and said ‘For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God’. Unless we are utterly dependent on God’s Spirit, we cannot surrender fully to Jesus. Do we ask often for help with a heart that really needs it?
It is important though to realise that in asking us to let go of our possessions whatever they may be, Jesus is inviting us to a deeper peace and joy, to a quality of life which we all seek now. By letting go we will find something far better and more rewarding takes it place. Jesus guarantees this.
“Lord Jesus, help us to be aware of the true nature of discipleship and give us the Spirit to surrender fully to you as you show us. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA