Sunday Reflection - 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Posted: Sat, 09 Oct 2021 17:10
In the gospel today, Mark presents a vocation story of the rich young man. He is a good person who simply wants a share in life that Jesus wants to offer. There is a danger that we could think that, as he is simply lists his achievements, he is showing off. However, he has simply kept the commandments and tried to live a good life. He has not stolen or told lies, he has respected his parents and never coveted his neighbour's goods. This young man seems an ideal candidate to join the growing band of disciples who followed Jesus. They were looking for goodness in their lives and found it in the life, preaching and ministry of the itinerant preacher from Nazareth. Jesus sees the goodness in this man with Mark making it very clear that Jesus looked at him and loved him' (Mk 10:21). Reflect for a moment on that exchange of love. This young man was in the total gaze of love—he, literally, was basking in the wonderful gift of God's love. We are invited into that love too and our presence together, at mass, helps us to live in that love. Weekly, we follow the gospel story and are invited to make it part of our lives as we live the love of God. In this coming week, I invite you to be aware of that loving gaze of God, be aware of just how loved and respected you are.
However, in this positive picture of service and care, and the real love of God, we see sadness. This rich young man was not bad: he wants to live the life presented by Jesus. He was a faithful Jew as he kept the commandments and was also rich, which according to Jewish tradition must have meant that God was pleased with him and had granted him wealth.
This is the problem: Jesus sees this wealth as his possible 'satani'—this wealth could be the stumbling block that could keep him from fully following. As we have seen before, Jesus makes the simple invitation, ''Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me' (Mk 10:21). The invitation is contingent on the rich man giving up all his money and possessions and sharing with those in greater need. This is nothing new: Peter had to give up his business and family life, while Matthew, the successful and rich tax collector was prepared to give up everything in order to follow the Master. However, this young man cannot accept that challenge 'and went away sad' (Mk 10:22). Jesus, his heart still full of love for the man, watched him walk away and he contradicted Jewish tradition and said, 'How hard it is for those that have riches to enter the kingdom of God.' Mk 10:23). The disciples were astonished as they too believed that to have wealth was a sign that you were in good standing with God, and here was Jesus telling them that riches were a stumbling block to entering the kingdom of God.
So many of us are just like this young man: we do not cause trouble and we help others but there is a basic selfishness that we cannot let go of. Jesus is asking for total dedication and a willingness to enter fully into the reign of God. Peter, with all his faults and failings, is prepared to put his faith totally in Jesus. I honestly think that Jesus is not railing against wealth in itself—wealth can actually help the poor and needy, as Jesus suggests. What concerns him is that selfish attachment to wealth that obscures true love.
The call of Jesus to the rich young man is a call to each and every one of us: we are invited to follow Jesus closely in this coming week especially. He makes us all a deep promise, 'no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life' (Mk 10:29-30).
This promise is made to you today—a promise that is real. We do well to remember that poverty is not just about wealth, possessions and money—we need to remember our attitude towards others. I urge you to reflect on these words from St Teresa of Calcutta as she describes the real poverty in our world:
The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God. ('A Simple Path').
Author: Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB
Image: Heinrich Hofmann (Wikimedia Commons)