Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The lessons for Sunday, October 11, 2009:

First Reading: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Job 23:1-9, 16-17

Psalm: Psalm 90:12-17

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 22:1-15

Second Reading: Hebrews 4:12-16

Gospel: Mark 10:17-31

So, far, this month is proving to be Tough Text month. I suspect most Americans will have more problems with this text than with the divorce text of last week.

We've spent centuries rationalizing our way around the demands of this text. We talk about how the needle's eye is really a gate in Jerusalem (something that scholars doubt), so that we can convince ourselves that one could be both rich and righteous, even if that might be rare. We return to our stewardship messages, reminding each other that Jesus calls us to be generous. We consider a tough stewardship message one that asks people to give away 10% of their income.

No, Jesus has the tough stewardship message: sell what you have and give the money to the poor.


I've had this argument with believer and non-believer alike, who say, "You can't really believe that Jesus means that literally."

Yes, in fact, I do. And of course, the next question: "Why aren't you doing that then?" Well, sadly, I'm as attached to my possessions--and their symbolic security--as the next person.

The last year has taught us much about the danger of counting on our possessions for security. We've seen how quickly wealth can be liquidated--and for what. As I look at my decimated retirement account, I often think of how much happier I might be had I given that money to the poor instead of hoarding it for my future. Now it's vanished, gone, like steam. No one has benefited--except, perhaps, for the people who made a profit off my money before it vanished. And I'm fairly certain the poor didn't see the benefit of that.

Jesus returns to this message again and again: our attachment to money is spiritually dangerous, the biggest spiritual danger that most of us face. Comparatively speaking, he doesn't spend much time at all on other sins. He never talks directly about homosexuality, the issue that's splitting so many churches. But he returns again and again to the message that the rich must share with the poor.

Jesus calls us to radical generosity. We are to do more than just follow a set of laws, like the young man was so capable of doing. We are to jettison our stuff, so that we're more able to follow Christ. Jesus calls us to give away our wealth, so that our grasping hands can be open for the blessings that God wants to give us. We are to unclench our hands, release our money (and fear), and trust in God.

But the good news of this Gospel is that Jesus loves us where we are. So you're not radically generous right now. Start where you are. Increase your giving by 1%. Pick up the check more often when you go out with friends. You've got a lot of possessions gathering dust, and you probably know some young people just starting out who could use them. Leave larger tips. Quit complaining about your taxes.

Like every other spiritual trait, we grow stronger as we practice. Unclench those greedy, grasping hands.

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