Someone came to Jesus and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these; what do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
This week’s readings all focus on our attitude towards the cost of discipleship and the attitudes which distance us from God.
In today’s reading we encounter the wealthy man who had been faithful to the teachings and the commandments of God, but who could not bring himself to make the final sacrifice that would bring him into a life of true discipleship.
So many of us are in the same position as that wealthy man. We may not consider ourselves to be rich but, in comparison with so many, we all have some degree of wealth. It is the calling of every Christian to recognize that worldly wealth is nothing more than a tool to improve the lot of those less fortunate than ourselves.
In the Acts of the Apostles we read of the workings of the first church communities. Those early Christians embraced this holding of material possessions in common very seriously. As a sign of their conversion they entrusted everything they owned to the community of the faithful. The elders of those early churches then used that collective wealth to create a society in which all could flourish, and especially those who were seen to be in the greatest need.
This altruistic aspect of church life soon vanished. The response to Jesus’ call to live a life of self-sacrifice became tempered and moderated. Human arguments prevailed and the Church became what it is so often seen as being today, an institution that glories in its riches whilst failing to share the benefits of those riches with those who live in desperate poverty.
Whether we view the Church as an international institution or as a group of like-minded neighbours, the fact is that Jesus calls us to a life of self-sacrificial love and service. He also makes it clear that the hoarding of money and possessions can only ever be a barrier to that life of true discipleship. Too often church councils are dominated by those who prefer to hoard money rather than relish in Christ’s call to place people above buildings and overflowing bank accounts. Too often we ignore the needs of those who live in poverty, explaining our attitudes away as being prudent financial stewardship. Too often we turn the weakness and fragility of others into a weapon with which to beat them … “They have all that they deserve because of the way they live their lives” we say in a self-righteous voice!
I pray that whenever we are confronted with the choice of using our God-given riches for the good of others or for the bolstering of our own personal portfolios of wealth we might recall today’s reading. I pray that we might not fail in our discipleship because we allow greed to harden our hearts. I pray that we might live, love and serve as Christ did.
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