Following Jesus Means Learning How to Be Poor in Spirit
User's Guide to Sunday, Oct. 11
Sunday, Oct. 11, is the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B).
Wisdom 7:7-11, Psalms 90:12-17, Hebrews 4:12-13, Mark 10:17-30 or 10:17-27
This Sunday, the second reading warns us that the word of God hurts sometimes — and the Gospel proves it. “The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow,” says the Letter to the Hebrews. “No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.”
The Gospel follows, telling the tale of a “rich young man” who met the Lord. Jesus asks him if he has kept the commandments; he has. So Jesus asks him to give everything. “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor; and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come; follow me.”
This is the same compelling invitation of Christ that convinced fishermen to walk away from their jobs and their families. But the rich young man does not join the apostles. Instead, “his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” Then Jesus takes the occasion to tell whoever will listen, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” It is important to see what he is defining as “rich.” We are never told that the man who approached him is a prince or the New Testament equivalent of a millionaire. We are told that “he had many possessions” and that he is a religious guy.
There are many people who fit that description today. We have many possessions. We live in a land of single-family homes, with central cooling and heating and multiple cars. We are a nation that loves to shop and eat out and dress in fashion. Many of us are religious: We know the rules, and we follow them. We reject the culture of death and the destructive ideologies of secularism. We need to be very careful: Jesus is speaking to us today. Jesus looks at us and loves us, just as the Gospel says he did with the rich young man, and he asks us to give up what we have and follow him.
We who are laypeople are not being asked to give all, like the Lord’s special band of consecrated lives. But he is asking for us to be poor in spirit. That means putting all of what we have at his service. Do we have a house? How can we use it to reach others for Christ, starting with our family? Do we have cars? How can we help others with them? Do we love to shop? Father Michael Gaitley, of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, in his new book You Did It to Me, suggests skipping a shopping trip and putting the money in a “Mercy Jar” for the poor.
We are also used to thinking it is easy to go to heaven. It is not. “How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” says Jesus. This is what Paul means about the sharp-bladed word of God.
But we have hope. I love the Psalm the Church quotes in today’s entrance antiphon: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But with you is found forgiveness, O God of Israel.”
On our own, heaven is unattainable, but with Christ’s mercy and grace, everything is possible.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas,
where he lives with April,
his wife and in-house theologian and consultant,
and their children.