“To die for”
by Sr Máire O’Byrne FMA
In today’s world the expression “to die for” is so often used that one might wonder how there is anyone still alive! However, we might ask ourselves, what am I really ready to die for. This is an important question. We need something that makes life worth living. As Martin Luther King so wisely comments, “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”
The young man in today’s gospel is obviously a very good person and he believes that he is ready for anything that Jesus might ask him, that “eternal life” is something to die for. However, when he’s put to the test to, “go sell all you have and give it to the poor and come follow me”, he goes away sad. It is clear that he loves his great wealth more than anything else. He thought Jesus was so inspiring that he would do anything to follow Him but when put to the test he shows his true colours. It is not he who controls his money; his money controls him. He thought that his priorities were clear, but as James W. Frickwrote “Don’t tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I’ll tell you what they are.”
It is easy to think of this gospel passage as dealing with wealth and attachment to money and therefore many of us we may feel that it has nothing to do with us since we have not much money to be attached to. There is much more to it. The writer in the first reading is quite clear that what is most important to him is Wisdom. Unlike the rich young man, he is ready to give all in order to acquire wisdom and he is successful in his quest. This “Wisdom” is often identified with the Spirit or Word of God and as the reading from the Hebrews reminds us, this Word is the one who knows us fully, the only one who can guide us in our search for real values.
What are my priorities? If I were put to the test, what would I be ready to die for? Or maybe I should ask myself “what am I ready to live for? Would it be my relationships? My family? My faith? Today let us ask God’s Spirit to guide us in our search for what really matters in our lives because it is in this way that we can make our world a better place for all. “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” H. Truman.
May Wisdom guide each one of us as we seek the “one thing [we] lack” and make us ready to die for it.
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Wisdom 7:7-11
I prayed, and understanding was given me;
I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.
I esteemed her more than sceptres and thrones;
compared with her, I held riches as nothing.
I reckoned no priceless stone to be her peer,
for compared with her, all gold is a pinch of sand,
and beside her silver ranks as mud.
I loved her more than health or beauty,
preferred her to the light,
since her radiance never sleeps.
In her company all good things came to me,
at her hands riches not to be numbered.
The second part of the Book of Wisdom focuses our attention on King Solomon’s search in prayer for prudence and wisdom. He came to understand that God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom (Wisdom 7:28), and that holy wisdom is the way to friendship with God. Wisdom makes all things new. It purifies the heart and allows us to glimpse the hidden presence of God in the world. There is a wholeness to wisdom. When wisdom shines God is revealed because wisdom witnesses to the Spirit’s presence. Through eyes healed by holy wisdom the pure in heart see God. That is why it is important for us to consider the challenge put to us in today’s first reading. Which is more beneficial, holy wisdom or material wealth? Solomon faced this question (1 Kings 3:6-9) and so must we. At the same time we need to recognise that holy wisdom comes as a gift. It is not something we construct with our own hands and minds. It is more than a product of our own experience. All God’s spiritual gifts come as the result of grace and prayer, and from wisdom all good things flow. Are you ready to pray for the gift of wisdom? Are you ready for the blessings it brings? Or will you be like the rich young man in the gospel and walk away?
LORD, Adonai, grant us your transfiguring gifts of understanding and wisdom. Make all things new for us today. Purify our hearts that we may see in spirit and in truth. Show us the ways of discretion and gentle kindness. Help us to be considerate of others. Help us to be people who are ready and willing to help the brother and sister in need. Lead us beyond selfish reactions, beyond our attachments to wealth and power. Lead us beyond self to the place where truth liberates and love sets us free. Like Solomon, may we, too, choose the ways of holy wisdom. Strengthen us to walk thoughtfully, generously, and with compassion in a violent world. Now and forever. Amen.
Today we are invited to pray part of an ancient wisdom psalm, the only one that is attributed to Moses. Its core lesson is succinct. May we gain a heart of wisdom and know the shortness of our days. How are we to live life to the full in a troubled world? The short answer is: wisely, remembering that wisdom walks in the ways of love and kindness. Wisdom understands the riches of holiness and the gladness holiness brings to those who rejoice in God. It reminds us to live in the shadow of the eternal God. What is the wise prayer today? Prosper the work of our hands O Lord! Prosper the work of our hands that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days!Make this prayer your own today. Ask God to help you live in the light of eternity, in the light of divine blessing and divine mercy!
LORD, Adonai, fill the whole world with your love today! Give us voices to sing new songs of great joy! Fill our hearts with your awesome wisdom. Clothe us in your kindness. Show us how to come to the wellsprings of gladness and hope, especially in testing times and times of affliction. Turn your face of blessing upon us and deliver us from the evils of our days. Let us walk in harmony with your wisdom.Prosper the work of our hands O Lord! Prosper the work of our hands that we may shout for joy and gladness to the glory of your great name! Teach us that wisdom always walks in your ways of love and kindness. Help us to recognise the riches of holiness today, and the joy holiness brings. Shelter us in your loving friendship! May we live in the light of divine blessing and divine mercy all our days! Now and forever. Amen.
2nd Reading – Hebrews 4:12-13
The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely: it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts. No created thing can hide from him; everything is uncovered and open to the eyes of the one to whom we must give account of ourselves.
We are reminded today that God’s word is a living and effective power at work in the world. The Living Word does what it is sent to do. Are we ready to look into our own hearts, into our own spirituality, to discover the word at work there? Remember: the living word is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. But there is another question implicit in today’s reading. What happens when I become bored with the things of the Spirit? What happens when I fall into apathy? What happens when I resist the word? What do they say about my soul and my spiritual choices? Will I make selfish choices? Will I walk away like the sad young man in the gospel?
Lord Jesus, may your living word touch us deeply today. Let it penetrate between soul and spirit, joints and marrow. Let your living word probe the motives and choices of our hearts. Probe the personality traits that move us, our reactions and our conditioning. May your living word be a light shining into every nook and cranny of mind, heart and emotion. May it work with every desire and feeling! May it lead us to new stages of emotional and spiritual maturity! Let us be as an open book before you today and may your blessing finger touch us to the very depths. All things were created through you and for you! You are before all things and hold all things together. You are our destiny! May I never walk away from you! Teach me how to be faithful and true. Now and forever. Amen.
Gospel Reading – Mark 10:17-30
Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, 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 must not kill; You must not commit adultery; You must not steal; You must not bring false witness; You must not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, ‘There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.
Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were astounded by these words, but Jesus insisted, ‘My children,’ he said to them ‘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 a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were more astonished than ever. ‘In that case’ they said to one another ‘who can be saved?’ Jesus gazed at them. ‘For men’ he said ‘it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.’
Peter took this up. ‘What about us?’ he asked him. ‘We have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you solemnly, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not be repaid a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land – not without persecutions – now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life.’
Our gospel today confronts us with the ancient rivalry between riches and reign of God. The longer form of today’s gospel has three messages: the story of the rich/sad young man, the image of the camel and the eye of the needle, and sayings about the rewards of discipleship. The shorter form leaves out this third part. What is at work here is a radical teaching about the Christian attitude to wealth and social ethics. And all of this takes place on the way to Jerusalem. In the first story we meet Jesus as a real human being, a prophet who is not moved by flattery but is concerned to teach people about God, the Good One, the Holy One. Note the personal nature of the man’s question and Jesus’ reply. Jesus invites the man to a new stage of spiritual development. It is by going to God alone that the good is found. Attitudes to wealth and attachments to wealth need to be radically changed if the disciple is serious about journeying into God and the fullness of life. The camel story also underlines the same issues: does attachment to wealth make discipleship difficult or impossible? Are we dealing with a camel squeezing through a side gate or a rope trying to pass through the eye of an actual needle? And the rewards of discipleship? The answer is paradoxical: blessings and persecutions.
Lord Jesus, how well we know the story of the young man. How well we remember that you loved him. Lord, search us and know us. Liberate us from our own attachments to wealth and status, to rank and power. Open for us the ways of divine perfection lest we, too, walk away sadly. Was he the mysterious young man who ran away naked from the Garden of Gethsemane, stripped of everything like you? Did he learn the lesson you longed to teach him? For you even the darkness is light! You know our souls! Help us to let go of the things that stand between us. Grace us to embrace the creative and healing ways of spirit. Grant us the grace to be ever faithful to you. Teach us to walk with you. Teach us to embrace the Father’s will as you did. Remind us that when we want something we’ve never had we have to do something we’ve never done. May we rejoice in times of blessing and patient in times of trial. Lead us in the paths of life eternal. Now and forever. Amen.
In its present form, this account illustrates the theme of the absolute availability required of the disciples of Jesus. Doing God’s will from childhood is not enough to become a companion of Jesus as he journeys towards his death. Renouncing everything that gives security, even what is good, is a prior condition for following Jesus. He does not want people who have other commitments, who think that they should comply with other demands that are not of the kingdom.
Being perfect is not something one can earn. Renouncing one’s goods is not possible by one’s own efforts, or just through enthusiasm for Jesus, the good Master. To be able to renounce everything, we need the grace of God. If we leave everything to follow Jesus, it is because we have been chosen by him. It is not enough to want to be a disciple of Jesus. We must be chosen by him. And we are chosen, not because we are good, but in order to become good, not to receive many goods but to reach the Kingdom.
It is not necessary to be good already in order to follow Jesus, but it is absolutely necessary not to prefer anything to him, if we are to be his companions. We do not renounce everything in order to possess Jesus, but because we already possess him.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
In his account of the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem (Mk 10, 1-52), after the instruction given to the disciples (Mk 9, 33-50) which follows the second foretelling of his passion (Mk 9,30-32), Mark presents Jesus for the last time in Galilee as teacher of the crowd and of the disciples. In this scene (Mk 10, 17 -31) Jesus teaches clearly the incompatibility of riches and discipleship. The wealth of the good disciple is to be found only in the Master he follows, and, in order to follow him, he will have to leave everything he owns. Jesus will not allow his disciples to retain their wealth in competition with him. He asks his disciples for a total commitment.
This is the only vocation story in the gospel that does not evoke a positive response. That must be borne in mind. The memory of the meeting of Jesus with the good young man, who happened also to be rich, served as a guideline to the early Christian community on the relationship between riches and discipleship. The early Christians were able to identify with those first disciples who had abandoned everything to follow Jesus. Their call was not the result of a life of obedience to the law, but a response to the personal love of Jesus.
The story is skilfully crafted and is told in all three synoptics (Mk 10, 17-31; Mt 19,16-30; Lk 18,18 -30). Mark’s account pays more attention to the affection Jesus had for the young man (Mk 10, 18.104.22.168.26). The story is presented, essentially, as an ongoing conversation in which Jesus is always present. According to whom he is speaking to – the unnamed young man, the disciples or Peter – we can divide the episode into three scenes: the meeting of the young man with Jesus (Mk 10, 17b-20), the comment of Jesus addressed to the disciples (Mk 10, 23 -27), and the disciples’ reaction to the radical demand of Jesus (Mk 10,28 -31).
The conversation between Jesus and the rich man (Mk 10, 17b-22) begins rather abruptly. On his journey, Jesus is approached by a man who is not interested in Jesus but in himself and his own salvation. He asks Jesus for nothing except advice (Mk 10, 17.20). The meeting takes place at the request of the stranger. Jesus responds to the concerns of the man who approaches him, but only apparently. In reality, he leads him skilfully from self-preoccupation and calls him to perfection. From being a stranger, he becomes a beloved friend.
When the rich man had gone away, Jesus commented on his failure to the disciples (Mk 10, 23-27). The description opens and closes with the mention of Jesus looking, first at the rich man, and then at the disciples (Mk 10, 23.27). He insists, in a kind of catechesis, on how difficult it is to enter the Kingdom (Mk 10, 23.24.27). The disciples were astounded at first (Mk 10, 24), and then interested (Mk 10, 26). This teaching is addressed to them alone and, for once, they understand correctly. It is difficult for men, but it is made possible by God and only by God.
Peter expresses the disciples’ reaction to the radical teaching of Jesus (Mk 10, 28 -31). The personal problem of the young man simply disappears from the story. Peter takes it for granted that he has already done what the rich man found impossible, and succeeds in getting from Jesus a promise of reward, for now and for ever. Anything he leaves – and there are several things listed – will be recompensed generously. Interestingly, it is not just property or belongings that are mentioned, and they are not even in first place. There are other things to be left, apart from material belongings.
It is not observance of the law that leads to sharing life with the Master. Being without fault from childhood is no guarantee that someone will remain with Jesus. Personal goodness is not the best preparation for following Jesus. Being good already is not sufficient to make one a disciple. The rich man had always observed all the commandments. Jesus loved him and invited him to follow him, at the cost of unheard of renunciation and painful detachment. He was to give up all his goods and give everything to the poorest. Jesus is good only in the eyes of those who have no other goods. We cannot have Jesus as our good master, if we hold on to other goods as our own.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
The young man’s question to Jesus was, without doubt, well-intentioned. He wanted to know what he had to do to gain heaven, and he did not delay in putting the question to the good Master he met on the road. It is all the more surprising, then, that the answer he received from Jesus was a bit strange; “There is no reason to call anybody good except God alone. If you know the commandments you will know what to do to enter eternal life.” If any of us received a similar response, we would immediately lose all interest in following a Master who paid so little attention to us. To Jesus’ surprise, the young man continued the conversation. “I have kept all the commandments since my earliest days” (Mk 10, 20). This confession was bound to attract Jesus’ attention and, the evangelist says, “Jesus looking upon him loved him.” Jesus fixed his attention and his heart on that young man who was able to declare publicly that he had always respected God.
As we read the gospel, we may feel a bit envious of that young man who was able to win the Lord’s affection in what was only a fleeting encounter. Maybe we should also feel a bit ashamed. Even though we have been following Jesus for many years, we are unable to say what he said. The disciple of many years, who has been a Christian all his life, cannot say, as the young man said, that he has always done perfectly the will of God from the time of his childhood. It is not surprising that we, unlike that young man, do not feel ourselves the object of the loving gaze of Jesus, nor do we feel we have a special place in his heart. Jesus reserves his love and his attention for those who do the will of God, and are still not satisfied but ask what more they can do. Anyone who does all he ought to do, and wants to do even more for God, can always count on the affection and attention of Jesus.
Instead of complaining that God neglects us, we ought to resolve to respond better to his wishes and to live according to his will. If we want to earn his love, we must love his will. Anyone who wants to feel loved by God must desire God’s will. Like Jesus in the gospel, God cannot resist people who have never resisted Him. He loves those who have never disobeyed him. He never ceases to gaze lovingly on those who have always contemplated him. Jesus felt attracted to that young man who was able to acknowledge the goodness of his life. In the same way, God falls in love with anyone who loves him enough to do his will always, and still feels he has not yet done enough.
And as proof of the love he feels for those who obey, like Jesus with the rich young man, God normally reveals what they still must do, the renunciation they have not yet made, the sacrifice they had always been avoiding, even if they have always obeyed God’s law. God invites them to follow him personally, to share more closely in his life, to partake of all that God possesses, and therefore to renounce every other inheritance.
God normally demands, as Jesus did of the young man who was so observant of the law, the renunciation of all other goods so that He alone can be our treasure. He wants to occupy the place in our hearts and in our lives that is occupied by other goods. Sadly, the young man preferred to hold on to his possessions instead of choosing God as his supreme good. He had the goodness to do always the will of God but was unable to renounce his possessions to win the God he already loved. That was his great tragedy!
He could not stay with Jesus because he could not live without his many possessions. All his obedience and the love he received from Jesus were of little use to him. His possessions had not kept him from being a good believer and observing God’s law in every detail, but they did keep him from becoming a disciple of Jesus, his companion on the journey and his friend for the whole of his life.
There is an interesting detail in this gospel scene. We come to know that the young man was very rich only after he had refused to sell all he had. The young man of the Gospel who had been faithful all his life and observed the law, and still wanted to do more to gain salvation, was very rich and wanted to remain so. He considered his possessions more important than following the good Master. And so, this faithful servant of God whom Jesus loved, endangered his salvation by clinging to his possessions. It does not matter how little or how much he owned. The things he possessed in this life were enough to keep him from following the one who loved him, and to endanger his eternal life. The goods that Jesus asks us to give up are not always material possessions, even though Jesus here refers explicitly to material wealth. Anything we put our trust in that is not of God, any person or any thing, any sentiment or plan, that we commit our future to, anything we are unwilling to renounce, even when clinging to it means denying God – these are the things that Jesus wants us to get rid of as soon as possible. As the young man learned, if we want to follow Jesus, neither good will nor exact observance of the law are sufficient.
To follow Jesus we have to let go of everything that binds us to anything else, to detach ourselves from everything that keeps us from following him free of baggage. Jesus does not want in his company disciples laden with burdens that they cannot let go of, possessed by their goods, preoccupied about holding on to things they will one day have to leave behind on this earth. If we want him to be our only good, and our surest treasure, we must carry no provisions for the journey nor rely on perishable goods.
It would be a mistake to think that Jesus does not address to us today an invitation similar to that given to the young man he loved. If we are not yet as good as the rich young man was, that does not excuse us from seeking him so that, as a good Master, he can show us what we ought to do. We may think we are not rich, or that we have not enough, but that does not exclude us from the call of Jesus to let go of the things we think we own and which keep us far away from Jesus and the service we owe him. We continue to live our Christian lives accumulating more and more riches, with our more urgent needs satisfied to the full every day, but poor in the things of God and with little joy in our lives.
We know that the young man was very rich because he was unable to give up his fortune. We know also that he lost the opportunity to stay with Jesus, and he went away sad. He had lost the joy in life. He held on to his possessions and he lost God. The worst thing that could happen to us as disciples of Jesus would be to lose Jesus because we are unable to let go of our possessions, even though we may not be as rich as the young man. Our meagre possessions could be the cause of our perdition. All the things that we have to renounce to follow Jesus today, all the things that become an obstacle or hindrance to following Jesus today, are the things we must renounce in order not to lose God. These are the things we have to give up if we want to live in joy and to live with God.
Undoubtedly this renunciation is extremely difficult! The disciples accompanying Jesus understood that, because they had left all to follow him. Jesus revealed the secret to them – God makes possible what is impossible to man. What may seem less good to us is made better by God. Anyone who knows that his only good is God, and his treasure is in heaven, cannot live without God and is willing to pay any price and to sacrifice everything for the sake of God, in order not to lose him forever. As for ourselves, when will we understand this? When will we begin to make God our treasure, the one good that we cannot do without?