Christ the King

Permit me to apologize in advance, for the brevity of this particular post.

Today we celebrate (using the proper liturgical title as listed in the Roman Missal) the “Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, ” or as it is more commonly referred to , the Feast of Christ the King.

That more formal liturgical title perhaps says it all, and very succinctly; King of the Universe. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, is the central figure to all of salvation history, reuniting all of creation with its creator, God the Father. To accept Him is to accept that reconciliation, that return to the state for which we all came into being. To deliberately reject Him is likewise, to reject that same reconciliation.

In St. John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus’ reply to Pilate’s question as to Jesus’ royal lineage (‘so you are a king?’)

For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

God is truth; God is compassion; God is beauty; God is love.

Everyone who belongs to God listens to Jesus’ voice.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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33rd in Ordinary Time (Year B)

We grieve and pray for those in Paris who died in the terror attacks on Friday, and those in Beirut who died earlier in the week, also from terrorist violence. The events of this past week on the international stage show us that death comes for us all, at some point and some time, and most often, not at a time of our own choosing. Just as certainly as death comes for us, so too will be the judgement we will each face after our departure from this life.

But our culture often wants to approach things like ‘judgement’ in a minimalist sense; what is the minimum ‘passing grade’ or what is the least I must do to achieve the maximum result? It is as if we can wait until just before the moment of death and fulfil whatever the least is that we need to do, so that we can approach the throne of God with our passports stamped, because we did what was ‘necessary’.

Perhaps that is the greatest danger in seeking to know the time of, as St. Mark’s Gospel calls it ,’the end which is to come’. If we know when the end is, then we can live as we please up until that time, thinking that we will always have enough time to avail ourselves of God’s mercy.

The truth is, though, while God’s mercy is limitless, the time we have in this world to receive it, to turn towards it, and to show it to others is limited to our lifetimes. We don’t have unlimited opportunities to live for God as if we really mean it. We need to act, and we need to act in the immediate moment because we simply do not know when the ‘end’ will come, either of our own individual lives, or when the ‘end of the world’ will come.

Often groups or people will say they have figured out or calculated or ‘deciphered’ the clues in scripture that give an exact date or time; just as often, these groups and individuals have been proven wrong; the date of ‘the end’ has been predicted by people time and again, and yet here we remain. But Jesus is quite clear when he says ‘about that day or hour no one knows, neither the Angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”…and the Father isn’t telling anyone. Why not?

Because while God’s kingdom in heaven is something we aspire to, to dwell in eternity, the truth is the Kingdom begins in the here and now; in our present circumstances and lives. Jesus repeatedly told those who would listen, that because He had entered into our humanity, our world, He would say ‘the kingdom of heaven is upon you’ – it isn’t just something we plan to act for down the road; it begins now, – the way we treat others, our actions, our words; the way we live out our faith; our relationships with God and others – whether we act upon all that God has given us to guide and lead us closer to Him now – not later – but right now.

Rather than worrying about when the end will come, so we can get ready to spend eternity with God, we should be concerning ourselves with how we are living for God now, so that when the end does come, we will simply be continuing to live for and with Him; living in His mercy, His justice, and His love.

We may not know when the end of time will be; but we do know when the time to start living for the Kingdom of heaven is – that time is now.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

32nd Sunday Ordinary Time (Year B)

Most often in our Sunday readings from the Lectionary, there is a common thread or link between the first reading the Gospel. On occasion, that link or theme extends through the second reading and binds them together.  This Sunday is one of those times when the thread runs through all three readings; and that thread is trust in God or the virtue of faith in God’s Providence, that God will take care of everything.  This is particularly important for us as Catholics to remember during this month of November as we continue to remember those who have gone before us in faith, and who now, we trust and hope, are in the presence of God.

In the first reading from the first book of Kings, we are presented with an image of the prophet Elijah asking a poor widow for food; she relates how she has so little, only a handful of meal and a little oil, enough for a final meal (or a last supper) for herself and her son, and that after they eat it, they will die; she’s telling Elijah that this is all she and her son have; that once it’s gone, she expects they will starve to death.  But Elijah, speaking with the authority given him by God tells her ‘Do not be afraid’….and after telling her to provide him with some of her last resources for a meal ,he tells her ‘thus says the Lord, the God of Israel’ that the jar of meal and the jug of oil will not be emptied.  So placing her trust in God, she does as Elijah asks, surrendering her last bits of food at the service of a prophet; and what does God do in return? Scripture tells us the jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jar of oil fail for many days….This widow trusted that if she gave all to God, that God would take care of her as she needed.

It is somewhat easy to see a connection between this passage and our Gospel reading: a poor widow giving all that she has to live on…in this scene from St. Mark’s Gospel we hear Jesus pointing out to his disciples a widow putting in two small coins –leptons which were worth less than a penny each- in the Temple treasury; in essence giving her last resources to live on, over to God; he contrasts this with rich people putting in great sums and says that her contribution is ‘more than all those who are contributing to the treasury’…because they are giving from their abundance, leaving themselves with a great deal left over. This widow, on the other hand, is giving over all she has to live on – she is completely detached from this property, giving it over to God in trust – in faith ; trusting that God will provide for her what she needs just as the widow in the first reading;  Notice Jesus doesn’t condemn those who have much – he simply says that those who give all they have- that those who are detached from wealth –from things –  give the greater contribution because they are not holding anything back from God; that nothing is more important than God or entering into relationship with God.

It is this trust and detachment that is really the ideal approach for all Christians, as we express our relationship with God. The entire purpose of our lives is to be reunited with God, and it is in the life we live and how we practice our faith in our daily lives that we express our own trust in God’s providence;  St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Hebrews, in today’s second reading when he writes that Christ has entered into heaven itself, once and for all , and appears ‘in the presence of God on our behalf.” This is the ideal of trust that the Church teaches and that we all continue to strive for.  It’s not something that we automatically have or receive;  it’s a trust that we enter into , little by little, fed by the grace of God

There’s a beautiful little prayer said by the deacon, or the priest during the Mass when the wine and water are mixed before the Eucharistic preface: it’s said quietly so only those at the sanctuary really hear it; but it bears being heard by all in this context; ” By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.”

Just as the widow’s gave up all they had in trust in God, so God, entering into our humanity as Jesus, gives up everything – His very life – to show us by example the result of complete trust in God; living in the presence of God for all eternity; entering into His divinity.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Feast of All Saints (Year B)

I had an acquaintance who once used to say, ‘our job as Catholics is to get to heaven, and to take as many people with us as we can’. I think this would be a fair definition of the baptismal calling that we all have; and that fundamental call is to holiness, to sanctity. Each one of us, by our very baptism, is called to be holy, to be a saint.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2683) begins to define saints as, ‘the witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints’. Yet the church also says there are many who have lived lives of heroic virtue who are with God, known to Him, yet remain unknown to most of humanity. It is not to receive honours and praise from people that we strive to live a holy life, to be saints – it is so that we can be part of that great multitude that we read about in our first reading at Mass from the Book of Revelation – the great multitude from every nation that stands before the throne of God. This is the great gift of salvation that we receive through Jesus Christ, a gift we enter into through the sacrament of baptism, and become part of the communion of saints.

To often we give a kind of ‘caricature’ representation to saints; we consider them after their ‘conversion experiences’ and stories about them after their deaths and canonizations, and we forget they were real people with real concerns; often they were people who struggled much as we do with their own human weakness, and yet, through their prayer and faith and the grace of God, they grew to deepen their relationship and love of God in their day-to-day circumstances; we think of St. Augustine as a great doctor of the church, and forget that his youth was spent in a life of self-gratification; we think of St. Jerome translating the sacred scriptures and forget he was notorious for having a quick and violent temper; we speak of St. Francis of Assisi hugging the leper and forget he was petty and self-indulgent as a young man.

But through the gift of baptism, we become adopted children of God, and through the continuous gifts He gives us– as long as we are open to receiving them – we grow deeper in that relationship. As St. John says in his first letter, when God is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is, and as long as we have this hope in God, we purify ourselves. This is where we run into conflict with the ‘world’ because we see ‘purifying’ ourselves for God meaning to ‘give up’ things, to do without all the world offers – and our human nature tends to push back against this. This though, is a distorted mindset, because to grow deeper in love and closer to God is not to ‘lose’ anything; it is gaining everything – to be part of that great multitude seeing God as He is because we have become like Him.’ How could any worldly experience top that?

Jesus gives us a ‘blueprint’ if you will, for deepening this relationship, this love – it is recounted for us in today’s gospel account of the Beatitudes from St. Matthew -we learn that we are blessed, becoming more holy, more sanctified when we deepen these virtues; being poor in spirit, being meek, being merciful, being pure in heart… yet Jesus also states the result of our being more ‘blessed’ in God’s eyes; when choosing God’s ways over the world’s ways, we are reviled and persecuted, and ridiculed. We see that repeatedly in our own culture – in popular entertainment, in politics, and even sadly amongst those who claim to be people of faith.

Jesus doesn’t say being a saint is easy; in fact he says it can be the opposite – but if we truly desire to spend eternity with God, we need to begin living like we mean it in the here and now, starting today, in this moment, rather than waiting until some point in the distant future when we have had our fill of ‘the world’ and realize there is something more than the gratification of our senses in this life. We receive strength and glimpses of this eternity in the Sacraments, which is why the Church constantly reminds us to receive them, particularly Reconciliation and the Eucharist.

We need to be concerned about our own sanctity, to pray for the grace to live a life of virtue, and for others to be strengthened with this same grace; we need to ask others to pray for us, particularly the saints who have gone before us,, ‘the witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom’.

There is a story that Pope St. John Paul II, in the midst of his pastoral travels that took him all over the world, fell ill between two of these trips. Doctors ordered him to rest in bed, but he was insistent that God had entrusted him with the mission to shepherd the people of this world to a closer union with God. When he decided to get up and resume his travels – which many thought was too soon – one of the nursing sisters entrusted with his medical care protested that he should set aside this mission and return to bed; she explained her concern saying, “I am worried about Your Holiness”, to which he replied, “I too, am worried about my holiness.”

On this feast of All Saints, may we too be as worried about our own holiness and the holiness of those we hold dear.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

30th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year B)

Imagine living in a world where everytime you recognize the need for something crucial in your life, and you ask for it, people around you suggest you don’t know what you’re asking for, shout you down, or tell you to ‘be quiet’.

Try imagining that you have a serious problem; you’re in a crowd, and you need help. You know someone in authority is near,and you call to them to help you; the people in the crowd tell you to stop shouting and making a fuss.

We see that scenario played out in our Gospel passage this week from St. Mark, where Jesus encounters Bartimaeus, the blind man. Jesus is ministering and moving about, generating a lot of interest and crowds. People are coming to see him, to touch him, to hear what he has to say. And in the midst of this, we are told, a blind man is aware of Jesus moving by and shouts ‘Son of David, have mercy on me.’

Something profound is happening here. Bartimaeus, living in his blindness, recognizes that someone in authority, with great power, is nearby. He doesn’t simply shout out ‘Jesus help me’ or ‘Jesus son of Joseph heal me’ – he utters the messianic ‘Son of David’ cry; even in his physical blindness, Bartimaeus recognizes Jesus as the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets, of the coming of a messiah in the line of David. He acknowledges (perhaps in a limited way) that Jesus is more than ‘just’ another prophet. He acknowledges Jesus is the completion of God’s promise to Israel; a promise of a deliverer – and even in his blindness he can see that Jesus is there to deliver from darkness. But the crowd around Bartimaeus tells him to be quiet.

No one takes up the cry of ‘Son of David’. No one offers to help draw Jesus’ attention to Bartimaeus, or to help Bartimaeus move closer to Jesus. No one affirms him in his desire to have Jesus’ healing touch free him from his darkness.

They tell him to be quiet.

Thankfully, Bartimaeus is made of stronger stuff, and he calls out again to Jesus, and this time, Jesus tells the bystanders, ‘bring him to me.’

That one line could be taken as a command to his disciples; as a command to all who hear and claim to be followers of Jesus; ‘bring him to me’

Isn’t that what we are all called to do, through our own baptism? Are we not all invited to live a life in union with God and with each other? Are we not called to bring others to come to know, love and serve God?

Of course when Bartimaeus is ‘brought’ to Jesus, there is a verbal exchange, in which Bartimaeus confirms his belief that Jesus can indeed heal him; the fact that he repeated his cry ‘Son of David have mercy on me’ when those around him tried to stifle him, shows determination and perseverance in his faith in Jesus on some level.

And it is because of that faith, that Jesus heals Bartimaeus; and the gospel says Bartimaeus followed Him.

This particular passage gives us a very clear example of the choices we can make in our own lives in bringing about the Kingdom of God. This is what the ‘New Evangelization’ that we hear so much about means – reaching out and drawing others into this deep friendship of healing, of mercy, of compassion and love with Christ.

There are two groups of people presented here: on one hand, those who, when they hear Bartimaeus seeking healing, crying out to Jesus in his need, tell him to ‘be quiet’; on the other hand are those who obey when Jesus says, ‘bring him to me’.

It’s quite easy to see our own modern world reflected in this Gospel story. When those who recognize the emptiness of their own lives; those who suffer; those who are isolated; those who know that material wealth and power and privilege can never totally satisfy – when they cry out to Jesus, society tells them to ‘be quiet’ .

When others recognize the downward spiral in our culture, that abortion and euthanasia are intrinsically evil and speak out against these evils for the love of God, they are told to ‘be quiet’.

When still others suggest that all people should be treated with the respect and dignity that is theirs simply because they were created in the image and likeness of God, they are told to ‘be quiet’.

That’s the voice of the crowd that does not recognize the strength and power of hope, of faith and of trust in God. That demand to ‘be quiet’ is spoken by those who are truly blind to the beauty and love of God all around them.

On the other hand, we can thank God that we still have in our own modern society, those who respond to Jesus’ command to ‘bring him to me’; ‘bring to me’ those who are in need of healing; ‘bring to me’ those who have lost hope; ‘bring to me’ those who suffer, who are isolated, who know that relying on things and wealth and prestige will only leave you empty and alone. ‘Bring them all to me…’

The challenge for each one of us then, is to reflect on this passage and honestly ask ourselves which group we find ourselves in – the crowd that says ‘be quiet’ or those who respond when Jesus says ‘bring him to me’

The truth is, we don’t really have a choice which group we belong to – if we really and truly call ourselves disciples of Christ. It should be readily apparent that we must belong to the second group, the group that evangelizes, the group that, by a lived example, draws others to the healing love of Jesus.

Is it easy? Of course not – nobody ever said it would be; but we can always ask for perseverance in our faith, even in the face of a hostile world, as Bartimaeus had in the hostile crowd; supported in our baptismal calling, we can bring others to Christ as he commands; blessed by the Sacraments, we can always reach out and rely on the healing touch of Christ, crying out in our own darkness, if only to hear those merciful, healing words of Jesus, ‘your faith has made you well’ .

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

29th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year B)

There is a common bit of wisdom in a phrase that most of us have heard at one time or another; sometimes it is spoken in relation to our jobs, or our homes, or even our families. It often centres on our personal wants or desires, our goals or even our prayers: That bit of wisdom is, be careful what you ask for – you just might get it.

This expression suggests that often, there are implications to everything we wish or ask for, and quite often, we don’t understand those implications.   It also suggests that with thing or situation we want, we also receive additional work, or duties or responsibilities or difficulties.

Our Gospel illustrates this in the request of the apostles Sts. James and John to Jesus. These two brothers, the Sons of Zebedee ask Jesus to grant them seats at his right and his left when he enters into his glory.

In Jesus time, whenever anyone held a banquet, the places of honour were the seats next to the host. If the person hosting the banquet was someone particularly important, say royalty or a high official, the seats at his right and left hand were reserved for guests of the highest importance; it would be a way for all the others at the feast to see these particular guests and recognize how important (at least in the public eye) they were. James and John are asking for this particular place of honour, of high regard, of Jesus who they believe will come into glory as the Messiah; but the fact that they make this request at all shows they don’t fully grasp the meaning that Jesus is trying to teach them about the true nature of the Messiah; they are apparently caught in the notion of worldly importance and rank and prestige, assuming that this even applies to the Kingdom of God; that the Messiah will be a political and social leader and will establish a kingdom in a similar fashion to a worldly kingdom.

Even the way they make this request shows they don’t really yet understand who Jesus is: they start with ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”…in other words, they aren’t coming to Jesus in humility and offering themselves to His service; they are making a demand – trying to have Jesus bend to their wishes.

He follows with a question of His own; ‘are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Of course, they jump right in and answer this with yes….they say ‘we are able’. Without taking the time to understand what it is that Jesus has even asked them, and without considering what sharing the cup or sharing His baptism really means.

Again in this culture, at a great feast, if a person of high rank hosted it, he would have a special cup, a prized possession. To be invited to drink from this cup was reserved to the most important guests, and was a sign of a high honour being bestowed by the host. It may be that this was the image of sharing the cup that James and John were thinking of.

Biblical scholars and historians tell us that James and John were once disciples of John the Baptist, likely present when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan. They would have been aware of the descending of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus and the Father’s voice ‘This is my beloved Son’, so of course, the image of Jesus’ baptism to them could have been one of identifying His greatness as God’s Son.

If these are the two images that were in their minds, and they were asking for recognition and honour, then it’s easy to see why they answered so quickly. It’s easy to see why the other apostles were a bit upset; likely because they were hoping for the same honours themselves. While they have committed themselves somewhat to Jesus at this point in His ministry, they still don’t seem to have understood much of his teaching , or even the prophets who pointed to Him; one of the more notable references to the true mission and nature of the Messiah comes from the prophet Isaiah, who lived about 500 years before Jesus, and who we read in the first reading: ‘it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain, when you make his life an offering for sin,…”…the righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” These passages describe what has come to be known as the ‘suffering servant’; that the Messiah, Jesus, is that suffering servant.

But the cup that Jesus is talking about is the cup of his suffering, of service, and the baptism is an entering into His passion and death; because without the passion and crucifixion, there cannot be a resurrection. Without the suffering and the service, there cannot be a place in the Kingdom. This is the sharing of the cup and the baptism that Jesus is referring to; and he makes this point quite clearly when He tells the Apostles as a group, “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.”

And he really clarifies it with the next sentence: ”the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve; and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

It’s a life that all Christians are called into; and quite often we are okay with the first part of that last sentence…not to be served, but to serve’…but we have some difficulty with the second part ‘to give His life as a ransom for many.’

We know that as Christians, when we serve others, it is without expectation of being repaid, or without consideration of gaining some type of advantage over another. Sometimes this is difficult (especially in our materialistic culture) – to simply serve others completely for their benefit, not our own, because this is what is expected of those who ‘put on the mind of Christ’.   But the giving of our lives as a ransom for others takes some deeper consideration; maybe it even makes us a little afraid because it sounds like something so far beyond our experience. It sounds like something that is only in the realm of martyrs or great Saints in history. St. James from our Gospel was the first of the Apostles martyred, under Herod Agrippa in 44 AD, and his brother St. John would outlive all the other Apostles, ancient traditions tell us he survived two attempts on his life for witnessing to Jesus.

But parents who set aside their life’s personal ambitions or desires to dedicate themselves to raising their children should be familiar with this ideal. People who put aside their own wants and goals to care for an aging parent have touched on this ideal. Anyone who sets aside their own wants and comforts and dedicates themselves to the service of others as a lifestyle are definitely in touch with this ideal. In their own way, they have given their lives as a ransom for someone else. The goal though, is not to do it so that we are ‘owed’ something – not so that our children or parents or the poor or marginalized somehow are indebted to us, or that they or the Church or God are somehow obligated to us: we do it because we want to – we do it for the love of God and our neighbour as Jesus taught: and in doing that, in that service and giving of self, we enter into the mind of Christ:

This sharing of the cup and baptism of Jesus will not be without trials: Jesus never promised that it would be easy: but he led by example for each of us, and continues to teach and to lead us: in our second reading, St. Paul tells the Hebrews Jesus is able to sympathize with us in our weakness because he is like us in every way except sin: he was tested and hurt as we can be. But he is always there to approach, so that we may receive the grace to help us in times of need; the strength we need to persevere in sharing that cup and baptism. And if we really understand that in our heart of hearts, then it’s okay to ignore that conventional wisdom

We don’t have to be careful what we ask for: because if we ask for the grace and strength to follow Christ, we just might get it;

And we’ll get far more than we could possibly hope for.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

28th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year B)

There was a phrase that made the ‘rounds’ on t-shirts and bumper stickers for a while, that read, ‘whoever has the most toys when he dies, wins.’ Hardly a surprising sentiment in our materialistic world; but when we really think about that statement, it’s really quite sad. As if the sum total of our life and existence is the amount of material wealth we have or have not accumulated. As people of faith, we know that this mindset is very narrow; our hearts and our souls tell us that there is much more to our life and our passage from it than a bank statement or a list of possessions.

In our Gospel passage this week, we read of an encounter between Jesus and a rich man; we are given an insight into the reaction of the human heart when we deny ourselves a deeper, closer relationship with Jesus.

The man asks Jesus what he has to do to gain eternal life – which is an eternity with God. St. Mark tells us this was a person who practiced his religion, but only to a certain point; Jesus tells him to keep the commandments, and then lists some major ones – no murdering, stealing, committing adultery – And in response to this list, the man says , “ I have kept all these things since my youth,” as if simply by not killing or stealing or committing adultery is sufficient to enter into the Kingdom of God. He’s proud, it seems, in being able to hold up a checklist of ‘major’ offences and presenting a clean slate.

But the words St. Mark uses to describe what happens next are so crucial to understanding just what kind of exchange is happening here between Jesus and the man. It says, ‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said, ‘You lack one thing,’…” That phrase is very important – ‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him…’ It suggests to us something deeply personal and intimate is happening here; Jesus is now telling the rich man to go beyond a simple observance of ‘major’ commandments; that he needs to consider an attitude like ‘just because I haven’t killed anyone’ is not sufficient when it comes to being united to God.

Because Jesus, ’loved him’, it tells us that Jesus is inviting him, in love, to move even closer – that the rich man has potential, but he still needs to detach himself from his wealth, his prestige, his privileged position, his social and political views – anything that keeps him from entering more deeply into relationship with Christ. The depth of that relationship is reflected in Jesus’ instruction to sell what he owns, give the money to the poor, and come follow Him.

It isn’t sufficient to give away some of his belongings, or to make a small donation, and leave his journey of faith at that and assume that’s enough. Jesus says, ‘it’s not enough.’ He invites the rich man and all of us to completely put Him first – to stop placing priority on power, property and privilege ahead of our love of God and love of neighbour.   If we truly want to gain eternal life, then that is the path we must follow, the gate we have to enter through; it’s not a popular gate, it’s not an easy gate – but it’s the gate that Christ Himself invites us to take.

Two interesting things happen when this ‘unpleasant reality’ is presented to the rich man.

One is Jesus’ reaction; the other is the man’s reaction.

Jesus doesn’t diminish or reduce the radical nature of what He has just said. He doesn’t say, ‘oh, is that too hard? Well okay, I was only kidding. You can keep all your wealth and just say a couple of extra prayers.’ He doesn’t say,’ okay, if that doesn’t work for you, just sell half of your possessions and give some of the money to the poor, and visit me when I’m in town.” He says give it all away and follow Him. He emphasizes the point made time and again in the Scriptures, that God is not a god of percentages – ‘give fifty per cent of your heart to me’ or ‘surrender thirty per cent of your life to me’ or ‘give me seventy per cent of your love’; God expects all – all of our heart; all of our life; all of our love – because He has given all. Everything we have, everything we are, all has been given to us by God in the first place.

As for the man’s reaction, he leaves saddened; although it is not a violent reaction, he rejects Jesus’ invitation to follow Him, to come closer to Him and to continue to journey with Him, rather than ‘holding onto’ his possessions. The man chooses material wealth and privilege over a deep and intimate union with Christ. If he has a lot of money, and this has kept him happy up to now, why is he suddenly saddened? Because on the most basic level, his soul knows it has come close to God, has been very close to a deep friendship with God in Jesus, and has turned back to cling to ‘things’ that can never satisfy the soul’s longing for union with God through Christ. His wealth will never completely satisfy him, and on some level, he knows it. But he cannot stop clinging to ‘things’ long enough to open his heart to accept the real treasure – he’s afraid that if he opens his heart he will lose what he has accumulated; he focuses on what he might lose, rather than what he will gain. And what he stands to gain is a personal union with God; he stands to gain eternal life.

It’s worthwhile for each and every one of us to reflect on the two reactions – both from Jesus and the rich man; we need to reflect on how uncompromising Jesus is in calling us to deepen our relationship with Him. Just as important, though, we need to reflect on those times when we have chosen to cling to those things and situations that distance us from Christ, and consider how, in the depth of our own souls, we too may have walked away, like the rich man, ‘saddened and grieving’.

The great news is that the story does not end like that for us, unless we choose that ending. That if we surrender everything to follow Christ, then we can turn that ‘bumper sticker’ mentality around, because the truth is, when it comes to a deeper relationship with Jesus, and to eternal life with God, ‘whoever lives without the most toys, wins.’

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!