"If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, -- quieter, warmer." - Dag Hammarskjold
I arrived back in Hong Kong last evening. It seemed like I was away from here for almost a month. Its good to be back with the guys.
I am catching up on stuff in the office today and watching some MLB Playoff action!
I plan to take a day off tomorrow and then begin my annual retreat on Monday. There will be no more posts on this blog until October 17th.
Sunday's gospel and some comments:
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.'" He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."
They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."
Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age – houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life. Mark 10:17-30
“I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me…. Compared with her I held riches as nothing” (tomorrow’s first reading). This is the background to the gospel story of the rich young man, who made the wrong choice: when the choice was put to him “his face fell and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.”
This man (in Matthew, a young man) runs up to Jesus and with totally exaggerated courtesy (there is only one parallel to it in Jewish literature, and that in the 4th century A.D.) asks him what he must do, etc. Full marks for enthusiasm, but none for follow-through. You can imagine him running up to any and every new teacher, and turning away disappointed when they asked him to change his life. He wanted religion as entertainment; he was interested in using religion for his own purposes, perhaps, without being challenged by it. We all have that in us. Some of us avoid the challenge by refusing to change, others by changing all the time.
The rich young man was a true believer in the other God: Mammon. There can be no final peace between these; they are the ultimate rivals. Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
Cannot serve God and Mammon...? Just watch us! We become very skilled at keeping them in combination. Sometimes we are capable of using God as a cover for our worship of Mammon. More commonly we serve God, as we imagine, but with the mind of Mammon, calculating in every area of life as if everything were bargains and profit. But the most common solution of all is to keep them in separate worlds; God in the world of theory and Mammon in the world of practice.
Is there any hope for us? Yes, there’s always hope. As usual, Mark shows a more ‘feeling’ Jesus. Matthew and Luke write simply, “Jesus answered...”, but Mark writes, “Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and said....” From Matthew and Luke you could get the impression that the rich man was a write-off. True, he is never heard of again in the New Testament, but could anyone whom Jesus loved be a write-off? Jesus did not demand perfection of him; he just held it before him as an invitation. An invitation is by its nature optional; you cannot imagine Jesus taking any kind of revenge on him for refusing it. There are stages in our life, and the Lord has more patience with us than we have with ourselves or with one another. All three Gospel writers say that the rich man became “sad.” They didn't need to say that Jesus was sad, because it was so obvious.
The Twelve were all called individually by Jesus, and they all followed. Even Judas followed for three years. But the rich young man is the only one in the New Testament who was called individually and did not follow. “He went away sorrowful, because he was very rich” (Matthew 19:22). There is nothing quite like wealth for closing the ears and the mind, for deadening the conscience. After a while it also closes the eyes, so that we no longer see the poor. That rich young man is never heard of again in the New Testament. He might have become a greater apostle even than Peter or John.