By Deacon Jerry Franzen at the Cathedral
Wisdom 7: 7-11 ` Hebrews 4: 12-13 ` Mark 10: 17-30
Praised Be Jesus Christ! Good Morning!
"It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle,
than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
There are interesting explanations of just what is meant by “the eye of a needle” but the bottom line is that
this statement should make us squirm.
As the disciples said, “Then who can be saved?”
It should make us think about what is in our wallets,
about the size of our bank accounts,
and the size of the collection of all that we possess.
To be sure, we must face the issue head-on.
What is Jesus saying that we must do to enter the kingdom?
I suggest we do three things to help ease our concerns:
1. We must put the passage in the context of the times;
2. We must uncover what Jesus had in mind
when he spoke this way about riches;
3. We must look at how this might speak to us today.
It’s little wonder that “the disciples were amazed”
at Jesus’ words and they were “exceedingly astonished.”
Jesus had seemingly told them that
NO ONE could enter the kingdom of heaven.
A powerful Jewish tradition,
a part of the very air the disciples breathed,
deemed that wealth was a sign of God’s grace.
The Lord blessed Job in his latter days not only with grace
but also with abundances of sheep, cattle and oxen.
God enriched those he loved,
as was the case with Abraham, Issac and Jacob.
In the old Testament,
wealth was a part of life’s peace and fullness.
Moses promised the people that, if they obeyed God,
they would prosper mightily in a land
where they would “lack nothing.”
But it wasn’t that God blessed all that were financially rich.
Isaiah warned, “cursed are those who add house to house
and join field to field, till they snatch up the whole area
and become the sole inhabitants of the land.”
And woe to those who forgot
that the source of their wealth was God.
The understanding in Jesus’ day was that,
if you feared God and you truly loved him,
you would be blessed with the good things of the earth.
It is understandable that the disciples said,
“Then who can be saved?’
Either you did not fear and love God,
received none of His graces and were doomed, or
you feared God, loved God and then were doomed
by the riches you received.
What did Jesus say to this revered tradition?
He reversed it rudely in his own life style.
He had by his own admission “nowhere to lay his head.”
He lived off the hospitality of some women of Galilee,
the hospitality of Martha, Mary and Lazarus in Bethany,
the hospitaliy of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethia
and Zacheus, even some of the Pharisees.
He also reversed this revered tradition in his teachings:
“Woe to you who are rich,
for you have your consolation.”
The fool who “lays up treasure for himself
and is not rich towards God.”
The rich man who died and went to hell,
as the poor Lazarus was carried by angels to heaven.
Jesus called riches “unjust mammon” and said
“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
“Any of you who does not bid farewell to all he has
cannot be my disciple.”
That is tough language indeed.
But there is another side of Jesus to keep us
from reaching a conclusion too quickly.
He did not tell Lazarus, Martha and Mary to sell all;
He didn’t admonish Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethia
for their riches.
Zacheus proclaimed that he gave only half of his goods
to the poor, just half, and still Jesus told him
that salvation had come to his house.
Will the real Jesus please stand up?
Will it be no riches or some?
There seems to be the radical Jesus of no riches
and the moderate Jesus of some wealth,
the Jesus who links wealth with evil
and Jesus the who advises sharing wealth.
Jesus told the young man in today’s Gospel reading,
“Sell what you have and give to the poor.”
Contrary to what we often unconsciously hear, in this reading
Jesus did not tell the young man to sell everything.
There is the Jesus who tells some to give it all away AND
the Jesus who advises others to share what they have.
The Jesus who stresses
how selfish and godless the rich can become
AND the Jesus who experiences how generous
and God-fearing his well-to-do friends can be.
What might this say to us today?
How do both the radical Jesus – give it all away -
and the moderate Jesus – share it - speak to us?
1. The radical Jesus reminds us that nothing,
absolutely nothing, can take precedence over Christ
in our lives, over his right to rule over our hearts.
He reminds us that there is a peril in any possession,
be it a preferred stock or a video game,
be it the position of vice president of marketing
or the position of RCIA coordinator,
be it the knowledge of the practice of courtroom law
or the power of being a parent,
be it health, wealth, family or home.
And what is the peril?
It’s simply that the possession is mine,
and it can be the center of my existence,
to constrain my life,
to manipulate me, to strangle me.
When that happens, Christ takes second place and we don’t listen.
We don’t hear Jesus’ continual invitation
into an ever-deepening and more personal
relationship with him.
We don’t hear his call to give it up, to let go.
The radical Jesus poses the question:
What is the camel in your life
that will keep you from passing
through the eye of the needle
into the kingdom of heaven?
What rules your life, the camel or the kingdom?
2. The moderate Jesus reminds us
of something more splendidly positive.
Whatever is mine, whatever I own, is a gift from God -
even if it stems from my talent.
That talent owes its origin to God.
A gift from God is not a gift to be clutched;
it’s a gift to be given.
The science I have learned over fifty-plus years
is not just to be stored away in my gray matter
for my own intellectual delight.
It’s meant to be shared, sometimes even questioned.
Each of you is a gifted man or woman, more gifted, perhaps,
than our modesty may allow us to admit.
It matters not whether it is millions or a widow’s mite,
intelligence or power, beauty or wisdom,
gentleness or compassion or faith, hope or love.
The moderate Jesus tells us to share our gifts.
To some, such as Mother Therese,
He says give all that you have to the poor,
and follow Him without any possessions.
To others He says share what you possess:
give to your brothers and sisters,
use your gift of knowledge to open new horizons,
exert your power for peace,
offer your wisdom for reconcilation,
your compassion for healing,
your hope to destroy despair,
your very weakness to give strength.
Remember, your most precious possession is yourself.
Give it away. At least share it.
To be able to share the gifts God has given each of us,
our vision cannot be fixed on the “eye of the needle,”
the obstacles ahead.
It must be fixed on the beyond.
For looking too long at the needle’s eye and
worrying about how you will get your personal camel
through it, can lead to despair.
We may ask:
“How can I reconcile my riches with God’s kingdom,
all my possessions with the command to let go?”
We can’t do it alone; but all things are possible with God.
My brothers and sisters, we must listen to God.
Some are told to give their all totally, all for God.
The rest must share their time, talent and treasures with others.
It is only through our acceptance of His invitation,
through His commands, through His plan
that each of us in our own way
will be able to pare down what we have
in order to focus on the kingdom here on earth and in heaven.
*Based on “Easier for a Camel” in “Still Proclaiming Your Wonders” by Walter J. Burghardt S.J. Paulist Press New York 1984 pp 134-138