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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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Robert Bellarmine: When Robert Bellarmine was ordained in 1570, the study of Church history and the fathers of the Church was in a sad state of neglect. A promising scholar from his youth in Tuscany, he devoted his energy to these two subjects, as well as to Scripture, in order to systematize Church doctrine against the attacks of the Protestant Reformers. He was the first Jesuit to become a professor at Louvain. 
<p>His most famous work is his three-volume <i>Disputations on the Controversies </i><em>of the Christian Faith</em>. Particularly noteworthy are the sections on the temporal power of the pope and the role of the laity. He incurred the anger of monarchists in England and France by showing the divine-right-of-kings theory untenable. He developed the theory of the indirect power of the pope in temporal affairs; although he was defending the pope against the Scottish philosopher Barclay, he also incurred the ire of Pope Sixtus V. </p><p>Bellarmine was made a cardinal by Pope Clement VIII on the grounds that "he had not his equal for learning." While he occupied apartments in the Vatican, Bellarmine relaxed none of his former austerities. He limited his household expenses to what was barely essential, eating only the food available to the poor. He was known to have ransomed a soldier who had deserted from the army and he used the hangings of his rooms to clothe poor people, remarking, "The walls won't catch cold." </p><p>Among many activities, he became theologian to Pope Clement VIII, preparing two catechisms which have had great influence in the Church. </p><p>The last major controversy of Bellarmine's life came in 1616 when he had to admonish his friend Galileo, whom he admired. Bellarmine delivered the admonition on behalf of the Holy Office, which had decided that the heliocentric theory of Copernicus (the sun as stationary) was contrary to Scripture. The admonition amounted to a caution against putting forward—other than as a hypothesis—theories not yet fully proved. This shows that saints are not infallible. </p><p>Bellarmine died on September 17, 1621. The process for his canonization was begun in 1627 but was delayed until 1930 for political reasons, stemming from his writings. In 1930, Pope Pius XI canonized him and the next year declared him a doctor of the Church.</p> American Catholic Blog The joy of the Lord is our strength. Therefore, each of us will accept a life of poverty in cheerful trust. We will minister to Christ in the distressing disguise of the poor with cheerful devotion. If our work is done with joy, we will have no reason to be unhappy.

 
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