28th SUNDAY of Ordinary Time 2021
Scripture Reading: Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30
How hard it is for a rich man to enter heaven. A massive new leak of documents dubbed ‘The Pandora Papers’ is shedding light on how the rich and famous are hiding their money, and how a world of off-shore tax havens is still thriving. Tax havens are the global black holes designed specifically to hide the wealth of the rich and powerful of the world through tax avoidance (which is legal but immoral), tax evasion (which is illegal and immoral) and escape accountability by ensuring secrecy in their operations.
Today we have one of the most vivid stories in the gospels. There is something amazing in the sight of this rich, young aristocrat falling at the feet of the penniless prophet from Nazareth. Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The Lord utters a strange reply. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Was not Jesus good and was he not God? Certainly, the young man approaches Jesus as a rabbi who captured his complete interest. The question Jesus might be asking is, “Why are you flattering me? Are you sincere?”
Then comes the challenge, “Follow me”. The renunciation of wealth for the young man is not an end, in itself, but only a precondition for following Jesus. This young man must be brought to recognize that his wealth was an impediment, preventing him from responding freely to the invitation, “Follow me.” It is the life of discipleship, not in itself the renunciation of wealth, that leads to eternal life.
Jesus, seeing the desire for greatness within him, was trying to lead him to what would really satisfy his longing. Are you intrigued with my teaching and my way of life? Have you the courage to follow me? Foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head! The story shows Jesus taking him through the essentials. Jesus quoted the commandments which were the basis of the decent life. Yet other than honoring his father and mother all are prescriptions to avoid harmful action; “Thou shalt not”. Without hesitation the man said he had kept them all. The man says much more. “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” A wonderful answer. Jesus is pleased: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Jesus is carefully opening the heart of someone he loves to a deepened friendship.
The young man by a solid will and zeal has refrained from doing harm and now he wants to know what he must do to earn eternal life. But our achievements are not enough. Our virtues are not sufficient. Even our keeping of the commandments seems not to be sufficient. His assumption was that everything could be bought for a price, including eternal life. But the real question for each of us is, “What good have I done?” How much have you gone out of your way to help, comfort, and strengthen others as you might have done? Have you formed relationships of love?
“How very difficult it is,” Jesus said, “for a man who has money to enter into the Kingdom of God.” When the rich man is confronted in this way, it came as a shock to his sensibilities. All he had been taught was being challenged; all he had believed through all his life was being shaken to its foundations. We may perhaps wonder why this saying so astonished the disciples. The reason for their amazement was that Jesus was turning accepted Jewish standards completely upside down. Popular Jewish morality believed that prosperity was proof of the goodness of the person. If a man was rich, God must have honored and blessed him. Wealth was proof of good character and God’s favour.
And indeed, he was a good man according to most everyone’s standards: he harmed no one, he was responsible, he worked hard to provide for self and not be someone who leaned on others. He was comfortably secure. But security had become prison. Security had deceived him into believing it was possible to be safe. We know we can never become safe. There is no insurance policy strong enough to prevent death. No health plan that can prevent the pain of our humanity.
This is why it is so difficult for a person with many securities, to enter the condition of blessedness. We must somehow become small, rather than big, to pass through the “needle’s eye.” To be born into eternal life we must loosen our tight clutch on all the securities and gifts we hold so dear. A man will always be judged by two standards– how he got his possessions and how he uses them. The more he has, the greater the responsibility that rests upon him. Yes, the rich must give a much greater percentage to taxes for the common good, not hide their money in tax shelters.
Rev. William Barber II, a Protestant minister and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign spoke Oct. 4 at the Vatican. There are more than 1 billion people living in extreme poverty. During COVID billionaires made nearly $2 trillion. “This is a moral spiral towards death,” he said. “It is morally indefensible, constitutionally inconsistent and economically insane.” G. K. Chesterton once said, “There are two ways to have enough in this world. One is to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”
“You have much”, Christ says, “But you are lacking in one thing. What is that: FREEDOM. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” “He went away sad, for he had many possessions.” The man could not do it. He had great possessions but couldn’t be positively and sacrificially generous. Jesus must have been sad too. Jesus, looking at him, loved him. There were many things in that look of Jesus. There was the challenge to greatness. It was also the look of grief: the grief of seeing a man deliberately choose not to be what he might have been. Simply put, possessions can control your life. They can become your life and your identity. Money offered the man temporary security, but it was also a tether, holding him back from full and free commitment to love as Jesus loved.
Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen once said, “Money can buy the husk of many things but not the kernel. It brings you food but not appetite, medicine but not health, acquaintances but not friends, servants but not faithfulness, days of joy but not peace and happiness.”
This weekend we celebrate Thanksgiving. Novelist Iris Murdoch has wisely said, “To be a saint is nothing less than to be warmed and vitalized by gratitude.” The more we understand that all is gift from the creator the more generous we are to share with the poor. Gratitude leads to solidarity with the poor.
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