28May 28 May, 2018. Mon. of Week 8

1st Reading: 1 Peter (1:3-9)

Peter praises the saving mercy of God, on the occasion of a baptism

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith (being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire) may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Resp. Psalm (Ps 111)

R./: The Lord will remember his covenant for ever

I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart
in the company and assembly of the just.
Great are the works of the Lord,
exquisite in all their delights. (R./)

He has given food to those who fear him;
he will forever be mindful of his covenant.
He has made known to his people the power of his works,
giving them the inheritance of the nations. (R./)

He has sent deliverance to his people;
he has ratified his covenant forever;
holy and awesome is his name.
His praise endures forever. (R./)

Gospel: Mark (10:17-27)

Jesus invites the rich young man to give away his money and be a disciple

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.'” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”


How to gain by losing

The paradox of losing something in order to gain something else appears both in 1 Peter and in Mark. Indeed, it is a hallmark of Markan (and of Petrine) theology, for Mark was Saint Peter’s disciple and helper in Rome. This principle has a number of practical applications outside the religious sphere. The gambler knows that she or he stands to lose the wagered amount–but risks it just the same, in hope of the prize to be won, whether on the card-table, the racetrack or the stock-market. The farmer knows what must first be spent on seed, grain and fertilizer, in order to ensure a crop. And how many physicians urge their patients to lose some weight, in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle.

This is echoed in today’s austere message, where in a memorable image Jesus expresses the no pain, no gain philosophy. “It is easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” The anonymous rich young man was ready for other aspects of discipleship, perhaps: the learning, the travelling, the companionship–but not this stark call to renunciation. The riches and talents of life can block and stultify us unless they are enjoyed in accordance with God’s will and in a spirit of service and of sharing with our neighbour. That other haunting statement of Jesus comes back to mind: “Whoever loses his life will save it” (Mark 8:35).

While First Peter is among the most life-affirming documents in the New Testament, it also includes a certain self-renouncing principle. Peter sees the glory of the Risen Jesus transforming us from within, we who have been reborn by baptism into an imperishable inheritance. seems that this epistle began as a baptismal homily, possibly spoken in Rome at a time when joining the outlawed church carried with it the risk of martyrdom. This risk to life and freedom being undertaken by the newly-baptised lends special quality to what Peter says about the lifegiving grace of baptism. Through it we begin a new life, the glorious life of Jesus, a source of joy and strength now, a pledge of what is “to be revealed in the last days.”

The answer was harder than the question

Sometimes when we ask a question, we can find the answer difficult to come to terms with. That is the case with the rich man who ran up to Jesus in this morning’s Gospel with the question, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ When Jesus asked him to go beyond the Ten Commandments he had been keeping and to sell all he owned and follow Jesus along the way, he couldn’t live with that answer. We are told that he walked away sad. Jesus did not ask everybody he met to sell everything and to journey with him, but he did ask this man. This was this man’s particular calling.

Like that young person, we can often find ourselves faced with a call to do something which seems beyond us. The temptation can be to walk away from the call, even though to say ‘yes’ to the call would be the path to life for us. The Lord can call any one of us beyond where we are; he can call on us to grow in our relationship with him, to be more generous in our response to his presence. We may not be able to answer that call in our own strength, but we will be able to answer it with the Lord’s strength. In the Gospel reading, Jesus declares that ‘everything is possible for God.’ When Mary was called to become the mother of Jesus and she hesitated, that was the message she heard. The angel declared to her ‘Nothing will be impossible with God.’ It is the message we too will hear whenever we seek to answer the Lord’s call to us.

One Response

  1. Sean O'Conaill

    As always the connections of wealth with social status, and of poverty with social shame, are completely overlooked in these commentaries on the rich young man who could not follow Jesus.

    Every rich young man will have a network of similarly wealthy relatives and friends upon whose good opinion of himself he must to some extent rely. What will they think of him if he renounces his wealth and throws in his lot with a mendicant preacher with an extremely uncertain future? It is inevitable that this young man will suffer derision and rejection from most of the society that has formed him if he does that.

    To enter the kingdom of God is to discover that the judgement of society is of no account, because a new enveloping relationship has begun – a relationship that deprives one’s previous world – ‘society’ – of sovereign authority. It is to discover that ‘what people think’ is not an infallible guide to reality, and that one’s fear of that bogus authority was always needless.

    Getting there is the problem, especially for those who have social vertigo.

    And that is the problem for too many of our homilists also, still completely blind to the power of this social dimension of honour and shame.

    Having welcomed Jesus into the middle class society that they so often belong to, they don’t get it that Jesus is calling all of us from below, into the society of the poor. They erase completely from their mindscape the vertical dimension of honour and shame that envelopes all of us, making ‘respectability’ mandatory. If we can be wealthy, respected AND Christian, (as taught by sixteen centuries of ‘Christendom’) no social descent is required, and we can look with complacent pity upon the rich young man.

    In fact the Irish Church is now in crisis because it has deluded itself into thinking it is superior to that rich young man when only the rare exceptions among us have overcome his social vertigo.

    On the day of the abortion referendum count the Irish Times reported that teenage anxiety is escalating in Ireland under the gaze of social media – proof that fear of ‘what people think’ is not effectively being countered by Christian formation in school and parish. So intent are our schools on being ‘respectable’ that they positively reinforce the conviction that everything depends upon what society thinks – as delivered to us by both traditional and digital media.

    Do the same media determine what clergy think of themselves, in the wake of the ‘social catastrophe’ they have suffered since 1992? If so we have miles to go to understand what Jesus means when he tells us that he has overcome ‘the world’.

    As always, getting there is the problem. When we do get there we will realise that social catastrophes are blessings in disguise.

    Only by losing all of his wealth and status – perhaps in some ponzi scheme – could the rich young man discover he did not truly need either. Only when our Irish clergy have realised this will they be able to preach with confidence and ‘bite’ to Irish teenagers living in needless terror of ‘what people think’. Those teenagers are currently missing from church because their clergy cannot yet speak to their deepest predicaments – even though they have had their own salutary lessons in social demotion.

    Status anxiety – anxiety about what society thinks of us – is called ‘worldliness’ in the Gospels. It is a constant in all social eras, and the real root of social inequality and injustice. Only when our clergy wise up to this can they become relevant again to the rising generations. The homily writers need to make a very late start.