A reading from the Book of Wisdom 7:7-11
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews 4:12-13
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 10:17-30

Dear Friend in Christ,

Warning: At your own peril enter into this week’s readings and ponder the concepts they put before you.  Take them to heart and you will never see things the same way, nor make decisions as you did before.  Most demanding of all, what you used to take as signs of blessing and God’s favor may not appear that way ever again.

The author of the Book of Wisdom is taken to be Solomon, even though the Book of Wisdom was written centuries after his death.  Solomon has always been seen as the epitome of what it means to be wise.  In this Sunday’s reading, Solomon tells us that he prayed and prudence and wisdom were given to him.  In other words, neither is a natural talent; both are gifts from God.  When Solomon receives the gifts, he sees things the way that God does.  Nothing is as Solomon saw it before prudence and wisdom became reality’s filters for him.

Go down the list of items in the reading and you will find just about everything that society values today.  Wealth and its trappings.  Youth and beauty.  Power.  Even health.  None of them, seen through Wisdom’s inspiration, is as important as Wisdom herself.  The reading ends with these words: Yet all good things together came to me in (Wisdom’s) company, and countless riches at her hands.  Follow that line of thinking and you can see how it was that the rich were thought to be those blessed by God and would, therefore, be first in the Kingdom of Heaven.  We will see what Jesus has to say about this.  You will appreciate the shock registered by those who heard what he said.  Perhaps you will be shocked, too, even angered.  That is all right.  That is where prayer will come in.  Pray to see things the way Jesus does, if you dare.

We sometimes fail to remember that the Word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword.  Reminded of that, we will not be surprised that from time to time, while sitting under the Word, that is, the Scriptures, we were unsettled as we wondered, How can this be?  What we might forget is that conversion is a life-long process that began when we first came to believe and concludes only when our loves have run their course.  Every step along the way, if we allow it, begins with grace and is supported by grace, as we are called into deeper union with Christ.  Put another way, it is God’s love that draws us.

We come to the gospel reading for this Sunday.  A man, perhaps a stand-in for you or me, runs up to Jesus and pays him homage.  Can you not identify with his question, at least when you are praying?  Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?  What do I have to do to get to heaven?  Jesus tells the man to keep the commandments.  Do what God requires.  Notice the man’s answer:  Teacher, all of (the commandments) I have observed from my youth.  That is a jaw-dropping avowal.  All of the commandments.  From my youth.  Not many people can make that claim.  It is clear that his claim is not idle boasting.  How do we know?  We know because of Jesus’s reaction.  Jesus looked at the man with love.  Jesus knows the heart and knows that the man has from his youth been single-minded in his desire to do God’s will.

The man asked Jesus how to get to heaven.  Jesus answered.  Now comes the offer of vocation, the invitation to move to a deeper realm and follow the new way.  You are lacking in one thing.  Go sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.  Jesus challenges the man to have Solomon’s experience and dares him to see things differently.  Can the man stop seeing his wealth as the confirmation of God’s love for him?  Can he wrest himself from these things in which he finds his security and that may well blind him to the needs of others, or cause him to see the poor in ill light?  Remember in Jesus’ time, and clearly in our own present time, poverty was and is seen to be a punishment for sin, either this man’s or his parents’.  It is that perception that Jesus wants to change.  It is that perception that Pope Francis challenges us to change.  The poor have a prominent place in Jesus’ concerns.  They must occupy that place in the concerns of those who follow Jesus.  Could the rich man become a minister to the poor?

Clearly the man had come to Jesus awed by what he had seen Jesus do and heard him say.  Or, perhaps the witness of others drew him.  Something made him conclude that Jesus had the words of everlasting life.  The crowds and the disciples following Jesus attested to that.  But when the man heard Jesus say that he had to go and sell what he had and give to the poor and then come and follow Jesus, his face fell.  He went away sad.

Do not take from this that the man would no longer inherit eternal life.  Jesus assured him of that already.  That does not change.  What is lost now is the opportunity to rid himself of everything that is in the way of making Jesus the center of his life, of experiencing the emptiness that only Jesus and the love of God that Jesus brings can fill.  Jesus had wanted the man to become Jesus’ other self.  He wanted him to do what Jesus does, and to speak as he speaks, to enter the reign of God and so help others, especially the poor, the sick, and the disenfranchised to know God’s love.

Now we come to another of Jesus’ declarations that turns perceived reality upside down.  Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.  We can discuss what the term needle means.  We will conclude that Jesus was speaking of the narrow gated entry into Jerusalem that was so low and so narrow that a camel could only go through it were its entire load removed before hand.  What we need to hear is that it is no simple endeavor to enter God ‘s kingdom.  It is not a matter of doing what comes naturally, as an old song had it.  If that were the case, from where would come the need for grace?  Where would be the difficulty?

As nakedly as Jesus has put the demands for entry into god’s kingdom elicits consternation from the disciples.  Then who can be saved?  In other words, they ask who can meet Jesus’ demands.  The answer is simple and straightforward.  No one can do this on her or his own.  But all can with God’s grace empowering them.

This brings us back to a sidebar, if you will, and the question of vocation.  The word vocation, as you know, means calling.  To consider vocation is to ask what it is that God is calling you to do or to be.  Most obviously, your state in life is your vocation.  If you are married, your marriage is your vocation and you serve the community in that vocation.  If you have chosen to be single, as a single person you serve the community in fidelity to that vocation.  If you are a priest, a deacon, or a vowed religious, through that vocation you serve the body that is the Church.  What we might miss is that in each of the vocations, in order to follow Jesus, it is self that must be emptied if one is to serve in imitation of Christ.  In each of those vocations, recognizing the totality that is Jesus’ call, each one can be overwhelmed by the demands and do what the rich man did.  Go away sad because it seems too much is being asked.  Who can do this?

This may be presumptuous of me, but I would challenge you at this point to take a moment to stop and pray, perhaps for the prudence and wisdom that Solomon prayed for.  That will result in your being able to view your situation, your gifts and blessings, as God does.  In that moment of prayer, ask Jesus what he would have you do.  What is Jesus calling you to do and to be in the community we call church?  The first thing you will notice is that if there is a vocation, it will be attractive.  You will be able to imagine yourself doing it.  Is Jesus inviting you to be a Lector?  An Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion?  A Greeter or an Usher?  Is Jesus inviting you to be a minister to the homebound?  Is there the possibility that you are being asked to go on mission to a developing country?  Could you minister to someone dying with HIV/AIDS, or to those in advanced years?  Could you minister to someone in dementia?  That is not an exhaustive list.  Those are just some suggestions that might prompt you to wonder, and wondering, to dare to say Yes if God will support that decision with grace.  Remember, there are primary vocations and avocations.  Marriage is a primary vocation.  Being an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion is an avocation or secondary vocation.  The balance between the two needs to be kept.

One more question to ask while you are praying about vocation.  What will you have to give up in order to respond to the Lord’s invitation?  It is not without significance that we approach the Table to receive Eucharist empty handed.  What gets in the way of your taking up ministry?  It is interesting to wonder how the story would have worked out, who the man would have become, had he gone and done as the Lord invited and then followed Jesus.  You can only wonder the same thing.  When you serve, what will be the impact on your faith community, the broader community, the world?  How will others experience Christ through you?

A final note that you ought not miss.  When it comes to the question of reward for having given up everything to follow Jesus, do not miss that Jesus promises the restoration of everything given up and persecutions besides.  There may well be a share in the Cross that you cannot anticipate.  You may be rejected or even denounced by those who do not accept your ministry, or misunderstand it and find it threatening.  When you think about it that should not be a surprise.  You are imitation Jesus.  It is possible you will wind up the way he did.  But then comes resurrection and God’s eternal embrace.

Sincerely yours in Christ,



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