Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL
Wisdom 7, 7-11+ Psalm 90 + Hebrews 4, 12-13 + Mark 10, 17-30
The man thinks that by keeping the rules or the “commandments” he can save himself. He is mistaken, and so are all those who continue to buy into this error on two levels. First of all, he thinks he can earn his salvation. When Jesus points out what it might take, he and the apostles who are observing all of this realize that the effort is hopelessly impossible. It is more than any of us can accomplish. Jesus responds by affirming however that God can do all things. It is only God who saves. We do not save ourselves.
The second error is not just about giving away the riches he may have. There is nothing wrong with the riches. The error comes from relying on those riches for security and safety, thinking they will get him what he wants. The issue is not the riches, but the reliance on those riches. It is this misplaced trust that Jesus corrects, not the wealth. The giving away of that wealth however is the test that reveals wherein one has placed their trust. Jesus is confronting reliance upon anything other than God. Those with many riches are not lost, they are simply more challenged than anyone else because the temptation to rely or depend on those riches is very great. Those with many riches have greater temptations and greater responsibility for their use of those riches.
Yet, wealth is not the only thing that leads us away from trusting in God. Power is just as seductive especially when seen as military might. Having the biggest bombs, army, and power has not gotten us any closer to peace. The temptation to rely on those material things is, by the lesson of this gospel, foolish. It is fellowship with Christ and trust in God that will bring and preserve peace. Investing in and attention to the social conditions that lead to violence shifts our reliance onto God’s concerns. Motivated by one’s spirituality and a sense of justice rooted in the dignity of human life is relying upon God who is mercy and whose presence is peace.
Physical beauty is another substitute for trusting in God. People who rely on their looks and cultivate those looks to build relationships are trapped by the culture in which we live. They spend more time cultivating their outward appearance while neglecting the soul and the spiritual life that has God as the center.
It is the attachments that we rely upon that keep us from true discipleship. A kind of Gospel detachment sets us free and liberates us from concerns that in the end have no way to lead us home. Misplaced attachments cause worry, anxiety, and fear. These feelings have no place in the lives and hearts of disciples who are one with Christ. The measure of worry, anxiety, and fear in our lives tells us clearly how much we have come to trust in God and rely upon God’s grace.
The disciples are astonished with what is being revealed here. The power of God and the grace of God’s love is always astonishing to those who are surprised by God’s mercy and the power of love. Such surprise is only possible when we are free and open to gifts greater than the ones we imagine and believe are so important.
The amazing thing about this encounter between Jesus and the man of wealth is that it has no conclusion. We are simply told that he went away, and that his sadness was even shared by Jesus. We can hope that he came back to experience again that look of love having discovered that he could live without all of his stuff, and that the freedom he found without it is better than the worry of how to keep it and how to earn salvation which is only possible with God who wills it for us all.