Oct 12, 2012

28th Sunday: "Go, sell what you have . . ."


Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Wisdom 7: 7-11
Hebrews 4: 12-13
Mk 10: 17-30

If you had a choice which would you rather loose: your family ties or all your possessions?  Granted, that isn’t much of a choice because both are important to us.  But, in the end, I think the vast majority of us would gladly part with our possessions rather than our ties to the family.  You hear of unfortunate folks who lose their home in a fire and with that most of what they hold dear.  The material memories, the personal items which have emotional attachments and memories of stories told.  But, the family is able to escape and everyone is saved.  Stuff you can replace but people are one of a kind. 
This Sunday’s Gospel reading from Mark poses a similar question.  Jesus encounters a well-meaning young man who happens to be very rich.  The young man poses a question to Jesus, the same question that each of us must ask: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” In the man’s question, however, there may be a sense of entitlement – “. . . inherit eternal life?”  It is as if God owes us something? Essentially he is asking, “What must I do to be saved?” but implies – “inherit” – as if God was going to pass on to him what was his due as we may feel our parents owe us stuff as they pass on from this life to the next.
All that aside for now, however, the question elicits a response from Jesus as he ticks off the precepts of the Ten Commandments.  The man states that he has been a serious minded Jew – “. . . all of these I have observed from my youth.” Evidently, he senses that there is still something missing.  In ancient belief, the many riches he enjoys are a sign to him that God has blessed him for being so faithful but he still wonders if there is something more.  Jesus’ answer is unexpected.
“You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor . . . then come, follow me.”  The incredulous response of the man is sad, “. . . At that statement, his face fell and he went away sad, for he had many possessions . . .” Remember Jesus looked upon him with love – he may indeed have wanted him to join his group of disciples but his attachments were too many. 
Is Jesus asking us to choose abject poverty before we can say we follow him?  Our western modern minds go that way indeed.  But, look at the Gospel in its entirety today.  Later, Peter queries: “We have given up everything and followed you.” We’ve done what you asked the young man to do so what’s in it for us?  “Everything” seems to imply more than material possessions.  Family ties have been left behind, the comfort of home and security of regular employment have been set aside, we travel from village to village and risk our reputations, etc.  This is no small sacrifice that the disciples of Jesus have made.
Our Lord’s response is reassuring about the “riches” that will come to them: “. . . a hundred times more now and in this present life . . .” But the what’s in it for us question seems natural but still a bit off the mark.  Jesus essentially lays the grounds for discipleship.  That his mission is so essential that our priorities must be set right before we attach ourselves to his mission.  This doesn’t necessarily mean we all need to be Francis of Assisi but we do need to have our attachments and detachments in proper order. 
God must be first in our lives.  If stuff and even human ties hold us tighter, then we might need to take a look at our priorities.  It’s a kind of a “I can’t have it all” and “I must choose between” perspective.  It seems to me that once God is center stage in our life, then all the stuff and the emotional ties to family and friends come into its proper order. We can live easily with something that isn’t new and shiny, the latest and the greatest, because we have found that our spiritual life provides so much more:

Each week we gather as Church around the table of the Lord.  Not to be spectators but to fully and actively participate.  Yet, if we simply leave Church at the end of holy Mass with no connection to our daily lives we are missing the point of coming at all.  Here we bring all that we have and are.  We offer it in thanksgiving and repentance and then go forth to "glorify the Lord by our lives."  By the choices we make and the example we give to others throughout our week, we show that God is always first above all things.
Where is God in your life?  I recently read what I thought was a wonderful insight about the power of secular culture today: “We give a nod to God and then go and do what we want.”  What about the so called cafeteria Catholics? Recently I heard about a parishioner who boldly proclaimed he was a “cafeteria Catholic” and proud of it.  I would guess he is choosing only the easy stuff. 
Much to ponder this weekend.  Jesus does ask much of us if we are really serious but we’re not just let out to dry.  He states that salvation is really God’s business and that with his help we will do well: “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.  All things are possible for God.”  Reassuring words if we let go. 
More will come . . .