YOU ARE LACKING IN ONE THING. GO, SELL WHAT YOU HAVE…
Sunday, October 11, 2015
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Rich Man
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”18Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’”20He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”22At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”24The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!25It is easier for a camel to pass through [the] eye of [a] needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”26They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, “Then who can be saved?”27Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”28Peter began to say to him, “We have given up everything and followed you.”29Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel30who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.
Other readings: Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-13
We already know that when the Pharisees or the teachers of the Law come to Jesus and ask questions or pose a moral problem, there is always a hidden intention: to put him to the test or to make him trip. In today’s Gospel, the main character is an honest, righteous Jew, faithful to the Law, who approaches Jesus with a deep desire “to inherit eternal life.” His attitude is full of respect towards the “good” rabbi, in whose presence he kneels. Unlike the Pharisees, he is sincere and guileless, but his question reveals that the mere observance of the Law, living in full fidelity to the Law, is not enough. Obeying the commandments leaves him unsatisfied or, in Jesus’ own words, shows that at least he “is lacking in one thing.” In a subtle way, Jesus manifests that the Law, even if observed meticulously, falls short. It is not the way that leads to the Kingdom of God that he announces. Entering “the narrow road” towards the Kingdom demands more than legal observance of the Covenant. The advice Jesus offers the rich man, selling what he has and giving to the poor, is impossible, humanly speaking. It requires God’s help and a trust in him that defies our natural desire to be the masters of our lives, depending upon the security afforded by our money and our human resources.
This is precisely the moment in which Jesus offers a practical example of the attitude underlying the Beatitudes. Those who trust in God can feel happy and “blessed” because, even if they are poor or hungry or persecuted, their confidence in God will give them a security that no treasure can ever offer them. In a sense, that is also the attitude reflected in the children mentioned in last Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 9:14-15). The Kingdom belongs to those who can accept it as a gift. The dialogue with the righteous rich man is also a moment to see the kind of demands that those who want to enter the Kingdom of God will have to face. On several occasions Jesus has spoken about the confidence in God the Father which should mark the lifestyle of his disciples. “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24) could sum up the attitude of those who opt to follow Jesus. It is not a naïve approach to reality. God knows that we need food, clothing, shelter … but to those who “seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness ... all these things will be given besides” (Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-31).
Nevertheless, this is not an ascetic or stoic approach to life either. It requires a deeper view of life, not based on austerity or disdain of riches. It is, instead, an attitude that springs from the Wisdom that comes from God and that is Jesus himself, the “Word,” the “Logos” that sheds a different light on the mind of believers. Solomon could be an example, but even in his wisdom, he was far from sharing Jesus’ spirit and the keen vision, “sharper than any two-edged sword,” that makes humans see reality with God’s own eyes. Only under his guidance can we understand that riches and human resources (even the observance of the Law), cannot give us “eternal life.” That is a gift that comes from him alone.
So here we are with a text that leaves us uneasy, with a strange feeling of infidelity to Jesus’ calling. What is the difference between the rich man and ourselves? Even though we may lead a modest style of life according to Western standards, we are undoubtedly “rich” when compared with the common Jewish or Roman citizen in Jesus’ times. Who could afford having hot running water at home, a fridge to keep food, a gas or electric range, or central heating in that epoch? And I have mentioned just a few “basic” domestic comforts. Wealth is, then, relative. But, even in our case, it remains a hindrance to “inherit eternal life” according to Jesus’ demands. We can try to interpret Jesus’ words in the softest and most symbolic way that we may desire. In the end, however, we must recognize that we are possessed by our money, status, and prestige, perhaps more than we possess them. But we are neither brave nor sincere enough to react as the rich man, turning our backs on Jesus and leaving. In fact, we also run the risk of “moralizing” (adopting the “ethical” approach) and forgetting that it is only from the standpoint of trust in Gold that we must try to give a humble and truthful response to Jesus, and see how we can put into practice the last part of his words: “…and give to the poor, ” sharing. No questions, no hints on my part in this Lectio. Just a suggestion: let us begin by accepting our inner poverty, that of our deep mediocrity when trying to live up to the Gospel’s standards. And then, let us also share with others the feelings that the Gospel may have aroused in us. Perhaps that may help us to face the Word that “discerns reflections and thoughts of the heart,” and to put our trust in him who “has nowhere to rest his head” (Matthew 8:20, Luke 9:58), but invites us to come to him with our burdens and find rest in him (Matthew 11:28-30).
A double, simple, but deep prayer today. Pray for those who suffer from real material and spiritual poverty: that they may find the economic and moral help they need, and experience the love and generosity of God through our actions. Pray also for those (all of us) who have put our trust in our possessions: that we may be able to share what we are and what we have with others, and thus follow Jesus in effective renouncement of ourselves.
Read again the parable of the final judgement (yes, that of the sheep and the goats, Matthew 25:31-46) and see an example of how we can renounce our riches (not only money, but also time and comfort) and respond to Jesus’ calling.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón,Roman Catholic priest,Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain