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Bible Reflections View Comments

Taking Jesus at His Word
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012
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People often approach today’s Gospel story of the rich man by saying, “What Jesus meant to say....” Even Jesus’ closest followers reacted with a cry of, “But that’s impossible.”

Jesus is quite plain when he tells the man that if he truly wants to gain perfection, he should sell what he has, give the money to the poor and then come follow as a disciple.

Some commentators have said that these commands were only for professional religious people. While this passage is the inspiration for the vow of poverty that men and women religious take in our Catholic tradition, we don’t get to heaven by proxy. We can’t say that because saints and other holy men and women have done this, we’re off the hook. The call to be a disciple goes out to everyone.

There are three parts to what Jesus is asking the man in the Gospel. The first is to let go of his attachment to his possessions, to the belief shared by many in his culture—and ours—that wealth was a sign of God’s special blessing. Again and again the Bible points out that God loves the little ones, the least ones, the poor as well as the poor in spirit.

So the second part of Jesus’ command is equally important. Then, as now, care for the poor in society was something many people resisted. One of the common threads in the preaching of the great Hebrew prophets was the way the people were neglecting to take care of the poor in their midst. Jesus doesn’t mince words on this point anywhere in the Gospels. In fact, in Matthew’s Gospel he tells us that we will be judged by how well we have cared for these least ones, not because it’s a religious duty, but simply because they need care.

Few of us can say we’ve done all we can on either of these two counts. Most of us have more than we need, and few of us do as much as we can to help the poor and needy. This might be part of the point Jesus is trying to make. None of us is perfect.

Let’s look at Jesus’ third and final suggestion: “Then come follow me.” Unencumbered by possessions, fulfilling the prophetic command to care for the poor, the man would be free to follow Jesus wholeheartedly.

The rich man’s problem is that he was looking at religion as another way to get ahead in the world. He seems to be asking, “What’s in it for me? How can I be perfect? How can I gain eternal life?” But the lesson at the core of Christianity is that it’s never about us. It’s always about God.

We can’t honestly deny that Jesus said—and meant—that we should sell what we have and give the money to the poor. But perhaps if we’re having difficulty with living that out, we might start with his third point.

As we grow in our willingness to follow him, as we take up our crosses, we will find that the journey itself will have a way of reordering our priorities. If we’re willing to take Jesus seriously, indeed to take him at his word, we will find ways to deepen our commitment not only to Jesus, but to the least of his brothers and sisters.

Sometimes I make a mistake similar to that of the rich man. I want to make a grand gesture of throwing my responsibilities to the wind along with my possessions. But if I’m honest, that’s more of an escape than the way of the disciple. And so I focus on what I can do in the meantime to contribute to worthwhile causes. An honest start is better than a rationalization of what we wish Jesus had said.


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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog To replace our sins with virtues may seem like a daunting task, but fortunately we can follow the example of the saints who have 
successfully defeated these sins in their lifetimes. They provide us with a way forward so that we, too, can live holy, virtuous lives.

 
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