11 October 2009

A PAUPER INDEED

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 10:17-30


We have heard it countless times over: “Look at him. He already has everything! What else does he need?” Well, here is he is! Kneeling before Jesus, he is apparently at the crossroad of life. Indeed, he already has everything. Besides all his wealth, he still has three special possessions. First, he possesses good breeding. He knelt at the feet of Jesus and addressed Him with exquisite politeness. “Good Teacher,” he greeted Jesus who seemed to be uncomfortable with the formalities. Second, he possesses good character. From childhood, no commandment has he intentionally broken. And third, he possesses religious conviction. For him, fulfilling the commandments of God is not enough. He desires for the surest way to eternal life.

No wonder, Jesus looks at this man with love. For someone who searches for collaborators in a very important mission, this rich, young man is a first class among all possible applicants. Thus, Jesus gives him the challenge: “There is one thing more you must do. Go, sell everything that you have, and give the money to the poor.” The demand that Jesus makes on His possible disciples is simply difficult. To sell your properties is already difficult, what more if you must give the proceeds of the sale to those who are not related to you at all. The poor. It can be easier if, perhaps, you may give them to your relatives or friends. But, no, the poor, among whom many are anonymous faces to you, should be the ones to benefit from your hard-earned wealth. Only through this, Jesus says, can you have treasures in heaven. For disciples of Jesus, heavenly treasure is what they should invest in. This is their new security.

This new security, however, is not enough for that rich, young man. He does not have everything after all. Just as he falls on his knees before Jesus, now the rich, young man’s face falls as he walks away from Jesus. He says nothing as He goes. He can say nothing. And nothing is heard about him again. He remains nameless up until today. With all his wealth, does he even have a name?

This sad turning away of this rich, young man from Jesus’ challenging invitation is one of the moving scenes in the gospel. The possessions he thinks he possesses actually possess him instead. He loves his treasures so much to love Jesus as his only Treasure. Thus, when he leaves, Jesus turns to His disciples and says that it is indeed very hard for the rich to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Please, understand well. Jesus does not say that heaven is for the poor only. He does not say that the rich cannot enter the kingdom of God. What He says is that it is difficult for the rich to enter heaven. It is not a sin to be wealthy, unless through immoral and illegal means. However, the rich should recognize the fact that while there is so much good that riches can do, riches can also hinder salvation. Use wealth; do not be used by wealth. And, equally important, never get used to wealth.

The radical demand of Jesus astonishes the disciples. According to traditional Jewish morality, riches are a sure signs of God’s favor. But Jesus does not water down His challenge: it is difficult for anyone to enter the kingdom of God, but it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. The image is so vivid: the analogy is unimaginable. If that is the case then, who, indeed, can be saved? No one. No one can save himself. Salvation is a gift that God alone can give. For nothing is impossible for God.

The story of today’s gospel is a challenge to all of us. The world we live in follows certain logic: the wealthier you, the more successful you are; the more hard-up you are in life, the more a failure you are. The logic is depressing: the rich becomes richer, while the poor, poorer. In a dog-eat-dog world, it is therefore not difficult to understand why many eventually compromise their values to ensure for themselves power, profit, and possessions. However, what we worship reveals who we really are.

The story of today’s gospel should make an impact on each of us. It must make us pause and reflect because the lessons it teaches us guide us how we must live not only the present in view of eternity. Look at the man in the mirror and see our selves in the light of the values of Jesus. If our identity depends on what we have, what becomes of us when we do not have anymore? Are we afraid to loose everything because we tend to cling tenaciously to almost anything? Like the rich, young man in the gospel today, the wealth we should possess can possess us instead. When that happens, we are no longer free to accept the invitation of Jesus. Attachment to material things steals from us our capacity to choose freely. Jesus hates that.

What Jesus wants is for us to enjoy our freedom responsibly so that who we are does not depend on what we have. The disciple of Jesus is recognized by his or her relationship with Him and with the rest of humanity. Detachment from any form of wealth frees him or her to pay attention to his or her neighbors, and in that way, according to Jesus, His disciple gains a wealth of brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends, fathers and mothers, and lands. The rich, young man leaves Jesus and goes back to his wealth; he misses the blessing not only of a new life but also of the wealth of a family whose bond is defined not by blood or by law but by filial obedience to God.

Come to think of it, the prince is a pauper after all.

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