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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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First Martyrs of the Church of Rome: There were Christians in Rome within a dozen or so years after the death of Jesus, though they were not the converts of the “Apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 15:20). Paul had not yet visited them at the time he wrote his great letter in 57-58 A.D.. 
<p>There was a large Jewish population in Rome. Probably as a result of controversy between Jews and Jewish Christians, the Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome in 49-50 A.D. Suetonius the historian says that the expulsion was due to disturbances in the city “caused by the certain Chrestus” [Christ]. Perhaps many came back after Claudius’s death in 54 A.D. Paul’s letter was addressed to a Church with members from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. </p><p>In July of 64 A.D., more than half of Rome was destroyed by fire. Rumor blamed the tragedy on Nero, who wanted to enlarge his palace. He shifted the blame by accusing the Christians. According to the historian Tacitus, many Christians were put to death because of their “hatred of the human race.” Peter and Paul were probably among the victims. </p><p>Threatened by an army revolt and condemned to death by the senate, Nero committed suicide in 68 A.D. at the age of 31.</p> American Catholic Blog While the future may be uncertain to us, we can rest comfortably in the loving control and sovereignty of our Heavenly Father. We can trust his plan, and we can rely upon his fatherly design and control.

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