Monday, February 28, 2011

"Go, Sell What You Have, Give to the Poor" (Mark 10:21), and Receive The Riches of The Reality of God

Today's Gospel from Daily Mass tells the story of Jesus and the rich man. The man, a truly good, law-abiding Jew, approaches Jesus, kneels in deference, and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by instructing him to simply follow the non-negotiable laws of Moses (You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother). The man responds that he has kept all of these since his youth. Jesus than looks upon him with affection and love, and, no doubt noting the man's finery, tells him to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and than follow him. The man goes away downcast because he cannot muster the wherewithal to give everything away and follow after the Master.

The high irony in this story is that Jesus perceived a "lack" in someone who apparently had everything! Furthermore, the irony reaches even greater heights given that the "lack" has to do precisely with the man's riches! As a commentary to this interaction, Jesus teaches the crowds, "how hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God." This absolutely floors Jesus' hearers because they were under the impression that if one abided by the covenant, one would be rewarded by God with prosperity. Simply put, in Jesus' day wealth was regarded as bona fide proof of being in God's good graces (an extremely flawed and egregious error that persists in many Christian circles to this day).

Why is it that Jesus found fault with wealth? A footnote in the New American Bible theorizes that, "Since wealth, power, and merit generate false security, Jesus rejects them utterly as a claim to enter the kingdom." While this is certainly one valid explanation, it can conceivably be used to argue that wealth isn't the problem so much as the attitude of the one who possesses it. In other words, insofar as one doesn't rely on wealth to provide a false sense of security, than it matters little how much one possesses. The fact is, however, it obviously does matter, otherwise Jesus wouldn't have addressed wealth as the issue!

It may be closer to the mark to suggest that wealth and a life of relative ease simply create a "false, superficial reality" that runs counter to the much larger, more diffuse, and hence, "truer" reality of poverty and the struggle to simply survive from day-to-day. This more dominant, and "truer" reality is precisely where God's Kingdom manifests - not in the crushing, de-humanizing poverty itself, but in the struggle to survive and to bring about change, transformation, and justice. The situations in Egypt and Libya can illustrate this point well: if we had to place a bet on "where" the values of God's Kingdom were present, would it be on the side of the wealthy, deposed (or soon to be deposed) dictatorial leaders, or would it be on the side of the poor and oppressed masses who have rightfully revolted to bring about reform? What the rich man is invited to do in today's Gospel is not only give up his false sense of security, but to "receive the riches of the reality of God" in the ministry of Jesus who revealed that God is most profoundly present in the struggle of the poor and those who labor and long for the total transformation of the world. Pat, TOR