If you’ve been over to the rectory for the reception after Compline or to visit Griffin, you’ve seen that I am a great lover of periodicals. Newspapers and magazines are in steady supply, sometimes without me even ordering them – the publishers just send stuff. Nowadays I get about six free issues of Outreach Magazine, the magazine for pastors, but it’s really geared toward pastors who have earrings and goatee’s and wear graphic t-shirts and Britney Spears type mics while preaching. For some unknown reason, a few years ago I was sent a free issue of the Robb Report, the magazine for the super-rich, the people who can afford a helicopter for their boat, stuff like that. The Robb Report is filled with all manner of shiny things – the cars are pretty awesome – but I did notice something interesting. Included in the ads for cars and cigars and yachts were many, many ads for protection services. Security systems, German Shepherds, German security guards, weapons of all types, all to protect your very rich self from those who would do you harm. I guess some people really need this stuff, but it made me a little sad to think that if someday I was super-rich, part of that money might have to go to insulating myself from the outside world.
Preachers might have tried to insulate themselves from the outside world over the last two Sundays; last week the Gospel was about divorce and adultery and this week we get money, two subjects that aren’t the most comfortable to talk about from the pulpit. But Jesus had something to say about all of these things and we ignore them at our peril. If God provides a way for us to relate to Him through marriage and money and all the pitfalls found therein, then it’s worth the time and discomfort of talking through them.
Today we hear about an encounter Jesus had with a rich man; the story is often called the story of the rich young ruler. The young man was apparently very rich, had a good family, and was himself a righteous man, he kept the commandments, he was by all accounts the type of guy that lots of people would look up to.
But he himself knew something was off, something was missing. Why else would he go to Jesus in the first place? “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” is not a question people ask if they have everything sorted out.
The rich young ruler should be commended here: he had the frame of mind to even ask the question, when so few do. How many among us suffer from not knowing the questions to ask to ease the hunger? The “abundance of riches, whether of mind, heart, or property, never seems to ease the hunger. We live in fear of losing our power, be it physical or mental. Money does not buy joy. Beauty, so skin-deep, lasts half as long. There are disenchanted intellectuals. There are “pictures of health” burdened with miserable lives.”1
“What must I do for eternal life?” Our achievements are not enough. Our virtues are not sufficient. Even our keeping of the commandments seems not to still the question. We have kept all these things.
“Jesus looked at him with love.” So he looks upon the longing of us all. He speaks: “There is one thing you lack. Go and sell what you have and give to the poor; you will then have treasure in heaven. After that come and follow me.” At these words the man’s face fell. He went away sad, for he had many possessions. Somehow, the very things we keep, the gifts we cannot bear releasing, hold us in a grip of sadness.”2
It seems that the rich young ruler didn’t have many possessions as much as many possessions had a grip on the rich young ruler. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, that money is not evil, being rich is not a bad thing; the problem lies in where you put your trust, in what you rely on to make you whole.
So we need to sell all our possessions and give the proceeds to the poor? Some of us might, most of us not. But Jesus gives us a reminder today that salvation is not found in the pages of the Robb Report; that loosening our grip on our possessions gives us the ability, the frame of mind, to accept more fully the grace and mercy found only in Jesus, that great possession of the soul.
1John Kavanaugh, SJ http://liturgy.slu.edu/28OrdB101115/theword_embodied.html