Sunday Reflection by: Fr. Michael MacInnis, Director of Human Formation
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
There is probably no other question that is more important.
Our readings today help us to understand the depth of discipleship and it’s call on us. We know that when asked which is the greatest commandment Jesus pointed to loving God and loving one’s neighbor. There’s an intrinsic tie with loving God and expressing that love with one’s neighbor in word and action.
Jesus tells the rich man in today’s Gospel that he lacked a spirit that comes from insecurity by not accumulating, not possessing. “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor . . . You will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
Jesus’ call for this rich man was two-fold: a letting go of perceived security in his wealth and a new “seeing” of the poor in relationship to him.
In the Hebrew scripture, wealth is generally understood as a blessing from God. It is no wonder that the disciples are confused. The metaphor of the camel, the largest animal in Israel, passing through the eye of a needle, the smallest hole, only adds to their amazement. They are left to wrestle with the reality that what appears as blessing can become hindrance. Jesus sees that possessions, the status and power that come with them tend to keep people away from God. With wealth, it is not the money itself that is wrong, but the sense of power and mastery, the sense of independence and self-reliance. This is not a condemnation of the rich. Jesus had good friends that had money; after all, he allowed himself to be anointed with expensive oil - which Judas criticized until Jesus set him straight. A rich man buried him in the tomb. Mark tells us he loved this rich man.
So, is it possible that he was pointing to something deeper in the rich man than the money he had? Could it be that Jesus was not so much critiquing the rich man’s wealth but rather affirming in the rich man, his deep longing for more than what could be satisfied by his material wealth?
"Follow me" is the invitation that Jesus offered to his disciples and to us. The disciples, leaving everything, followed him.
What must I do to inherit eternal life? The rich man did all that was right and Jesus loved him. Yet, Jesus pointed toward a deeper wisdom, one that forms the heart of a disciple: “Sell what you have and give to the poor.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reminds us as they reflect on the Church’s tradition regarding the Option for the Poor and Vulnerable: "The Church's love for the poor . . . is a part of her constant tradition." This love is inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes, of the poverty of Jesus, and of his concern for the poor. "Those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin…has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2444, 2448, quoting Centisimus annus, no. 57, and Libertatis conscientia, no. 68)
The rich man in today’s Gospel can give us pause to ask a couple of questions: Are we truly free in our full reliance on the Lord, holding nothing back? And, does our freedom give us the grace and focus to bring relief, defense, and liberation to the most vulnerable among us?