Brett Fawcett

WORD MADE FLESH

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 11, 2015
Wisdom 7.7-11 | Psalm 90 | Hebrews 4.12-13 | Mark 10.17-30
September 28, 2015

Today's Gospel reading is one of the most important in the history of the Church's spiritual life. The rich young man who claims to have led a morally perfect life, yet leaves dejected after Jesus tells him that to gain the kingdom of God, he must sell everything he has, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow him.

Does it mean that every follower of Jesus must literally sell all that they have in order to get into heaven?

Certainly, some great saints have taken this Gospel reading at its word: St. Anthony of Egypt and St. Francis of Assisi both gave away all their goods after hearing this Gospel read at Mass.

But that doesn't mean that everyone should, does it? Actually, in a sermon on this passage, St. Basil the Great suggests exactly that. If this young man really had fulfilled the commandments perfectly like he told Jesus that he had, then why, asked St. Basil, was he still rich?

Give money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. - Mark 10.21

'Give money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.'

Mark 10.21

The poor starved around him, yet he had not given them all his wealth, and this, Basil says bluntly, made him a murderer - just as we are murderers if we have more money than we need, while others languish in poverty.

Nowadays, it may be popular to speak derisively about the rich, especially those who shirk the responsibilities of social justice, so we should be reminded how the rich would have been perceived by Jesus' hearers.

According to Old Testament wisdom literature and the covenant promises for those who followed the law, riches were a blessing from God on those who had wisdom and righteousness. God may have been with the poor, but wealth was still a sign of his favour.

We need to catch this point: Jesus is saying those who seem to be most favoured by God are most in danger of being excluded from heaven. His point is that heaven is not purchased by great altruistic acts.

When the disciples ask, "Who, then, can be saved," he does not say, "Those who impoverish themselves." He says that it is impossible for humans to achieve salvation by themselves.

Getting to heaven takes a miracle from God. This miracle has occurred in Jesus Christ, the only person who has ever given all that he has to help the poor, exchanging heaven for the cross for the sake of us who had nothing.

Perhaps we can't all bring ourselves to renounce all our earthly goods for the poor. For most of us, our journey to perfection is a halting and stumbling one. But this is why Jesus tells the young man, "Follow me."

Following does not happen in a moment. It is a series of gradual changes over a lifetime. At the hour of death, we will finally renounce all that we have. What will matter then was whether we journeyed towards the riches of heaven found in the love of Christ.