Have you ever felt that the challenges of being an authentic disciple are just too great? Have you ever been overwhelmed by Jesus' teachings? Love your enemies; pray for your persecutors. Offer no resistance to injury. When a person strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the other. In giving alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Do not lay up for yourselves an earthly treasure. Store up treasure in heaven. Forgive without limit. Do not turn away the borrower. Sell what you have and give to the poor. Judge not, lest you be judged. Become as little children. Love one another as I have loved you. Repent and believe the good news.
|Twenty-Eighth Sunday in
As we listen to today's Gospel, we can sense that Jesus' disciples were taken aback by the challenge he extended to the man with many possessions. Their surprise was even greater when Jesus told them how difficult it is for the rich to enter God's kingdom. Mark tells us they were amazed and exceedingly astonished.
Theirs was a world where riches were regarded as a blessing from God for the just and upright. Wealth offered security and a sense of well-being. To give all that up seemed senseless.
But Jesus was inviting those who would be his own to find the basis of their security and well-being not in transient riches or possessions, but in him. Could they do that? Did they even want to do that?
The dismay of the disciples is clearly reflected in their question to Jesus: "Then, who can be saved?"
Up to that point, the disciples had been thinking like the man with many possessions. He had come to Jesus asking, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" as if such a gift could be earned. Both the disciples and the man who went away sad were focusing on themselves, their efforts, their obedience and their accomplishments instead of focusing on God and on grace.
Once again, Jesus' response was intended to shift their focus from themselves to God: "For human beings, it is impossible ... all things are possible for God." Every challenge, every demand Jesus places upon his disciples becomes possible if, by faith, the disciple has learned to rely on grace and to approach each challenge as an opportunity to respond to God's call.
In the prayer traditionally attributed to Solomon (first reading), who was not a perfect man or a perfect king, we hear that he realized the importance of God and of wisdom above all other things in his life. With his priorities aligned correctly, he prayed not for wealth or health or an extended and prosperous reign, but for gifts that would make him a better person.
The spiritual posture with which Solomon came before the Lord can be an example for all who rely on God. Without a "shopping list," he prayed. In openness to God's will and God's ways, he prayed. With patience and trust, he prayed. He also prayed without a timeline as to when his prayers should be answered. Without a doubt that God knew him intimately and heeded him, he prayed.
Perhaps Solomon had been allowed a glimpse into the mystery celebrated by the Hebrews author in today's second reading: "God's word is living and effective ... able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart."
Indeed, to be sure of that is to pray with utter confidence.
To know and be known by God is at once a source of fear and a source of perfect joy -- fear, because we know our sins and infidelities; joy because God knows us completely, loves us fully, forgives us freely and chooses to enter into communion with us.
This is the God revealed in Jesus. This is the God whose grace makes possible our authentic responses to Jesus' seemingly impossible commands.
There is a uniquely Marcan detail in today's Gospel that begs our attention. Mark tells his readers that when the man came to Jesus with his question, Jesus looked at him and loved him. With Jesus, discipleship is always a partnership. He is indeed Lord and God, and he is also our Brother, Friend, Teacher and Yokemate who looks at each of us with a love that strengthens and supports us.
We are not told the end of the story about the man with many possessions. He went away sad, says Mark, and leaves us to wonder what became of him. Perhaps Jesus' look of love drew him back. Perhaps he was able to shift his basis of security to Jesus. Perhaps Mark's unfinished story might encourage us to be firm in following the One who always looks at us with love.
[Patricia Sánchez holds a master's degree in literature and religion of the Bible from a joint degree program at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.]