Reflection on the 28 Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 10:17-30 or Mark 10:17-27 Hebrews 4:12-13 Wisdom 7:7-11
Today’s Gospel reminds me of one of my favorite stories from John Dominic Crossan, who many of you will remember from some years ago when he and his wife Sarah came to the Motherhouse. For those of you who may not be familiar with him, Crossan is a biblical scholar rock star and much published author and lecturer. In the prologue to his book, “Jesus, A Revolutionary Biography,” he included this imaginary dialogue in which the historical Jesus is speaking to him.
Jesus says to Crossan, “I’ve read your book, Dominic, and it’s quite good. So now you’re ready to live by my vision and join me in my program?”
Dominic answers, “I don’t think I have the courage, Jesus, but I did describe it quite well, didn’t I, and the method was especially good, wasn’t it?
Jesus responds, “Thank you, Dominic, for not falsifying the message to suit your own incapacity. That at least is something.”
Dominic hastens to ask, “Is it enough, Jesus?”
Jesus answers, “No, Dominic, it is not.”
We don’t know much about the protagonist in the Gospel today except that he was young and rich. How he came to be rich we don’t know. He sought out Jesus and asked about “inheriting” eternal life. “Inheriting” — interesting choice of words. Jesus pointed to the commandments, and I imagine the young man breathing a sigh of relief and assuring Jesus that he had checked all the boxes —“all of these I have observed from my youth,” he says. Then Jesus ups the ante, “You are lacking in one thing,” he says. “Go sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The young man went away “sad, for he had many possessions.”
Lots of lessons here, about relinquishing and following, about place and ground.
We can borrow a bit of insight from the Pali Canon, the sacred texts of Buddhism. After his enlightenment, Siddhartha becomes the Buddha and is speaking to his disciples about “the dharma,” which might translate as the “moral law” or “the truth available to all.” The Buddha says, “This dharma I have reached is deep, hard to see, difficult to awaken to, subtle, sensed or felt by the wise. But people love their place. They delight and revel in their place. It is hard for people who love, delight and revel in their place to see this ground. … the stilling of desires, the relinquishing of biases and attachments, the fading away of grasping for security.” I think Jesus might have said the same.
“But people love their place. … It is hard for people who love their place to see this ground.”
We all have a place, which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s limiting. Place is the enclosed, self-centered point of view on the world where we feel comfortable, where our sense of security and identity go unchallenged, where we assume our position in the social order, or we’re preoccupied with our possessions or financial security, our privilege, our “rightness.” The Buddha’s words and Jesus’ conversation with the rich, young man underscore the reality that as long as you are caught up in your “place,” it will be very difficult to see your “ground.” Your sense of place might give you a degree of security, of identity and belonging, but it has the side effect of making you blind or numbing you to the actual ground of your life, the ground in which all life is rooted, the ground that points the way from which you can transcend the narrowness of your place. For Christians, we know Jesus to be the “the way, the truth and the life.”
From what we know of his public ministry, Jesus’ “‘way” — his vision and program that he called the Kingdom of God, as contrasted with the kingdom of Caesar — was about engaging with the here-and-now realities of the people that he lived among, the poor, those on the margins, caught in an unjust system with no way out, their lot largely created by those with too much money and too much power. This was the life that Jesus offered to the rich, young man knowing that wealth would be one of the impediments to that life.
Mark doesn’t flesh out the dimensions of that life in the reading today, but we have available the words of another wisdom teacher who does. Listen to the words of Ignacio Ellacuria, one of the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador:
“Today the authenticity of the people of God goes by way of poverty and justice: poverty, which involves incarnating all our efforts in the reality of the oppressed majorities, and that will involve a voluntary impoverishment and renunciation on the part of those who wield power; justice, which involves giving to the people what belongs to the people and struggling to uproot injustice and exploitation, and to establish a new earth, wherein the life of the new human may be possible.”
Jesus turns his attention to his disciples who are “exceedingly astonished” especially after hearing the part about the rich man, the camel and the eye of the needle. “Then who can be saved?” they ask. Like, really Jesus, who can do this? Jesus answers, “For human beings it is impossible, but all things are possible for God.”
In those moments, or actions, or periods of our lives when we can get beyond our enclosed, self-centered place and any of the many ways we hold on tight, Jesus promises abundant life, and not just in the future, but “in this present age.” Human flourishing, planetary flourishing happens when we begin to let go of our attachments, our risk-free lives, our white privilege, our wealth and economic security, our exceptionality — those things that get in the way of the flow with our own “ground of being,” however we might know that and name that.
We sympathize with the rich, young man — we recognize ourselves in him. But we also remember those times in our individual and collective history — when have been able to “let go” of our “place,” and sink into the ground of trust in a God who has promised to be with us, that communal flourishing has happened. May it continue to be so.