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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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James: This James is the brother of John the Evangelist. The two were called by Jesus as they worked with their father in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had already called another pair of brothers from a similar occupation: Peter and Andrew. “He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1:19-20). 
<p>James was one of the favored three who had the privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration, the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus and the agony in Gethsemani. </p><p>Two incidents in the Gospels describe the temperament of this man and his brother. St. Matthew tells that their mother came (Mark says it was the brothers themselves) to ask that they have the seats of honor (one on the right, one on the left of Jesus) in the kingdom. “Jesus said in reply, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We can’” (Matthew 20:22). Jesus then told them they would indeed drink the cup and share his baptism of pain and death, but that sitting at his right hand or left was not his to give—it “is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23b). It remained to be seen how long it would take to realize the implications of their confident “We can!” </p><p>The other disciples became indignant at the ambition of James and John. Then Jesus taught them all the lesson of humble service: The purpose of authority is to serve. They are not to impose their will on others, or lord it over them. This is the position of Jesus himself. He was the servant of all; the service imposed on him was the supreme sacrifice of his own life. </p><p>On another occasion, James and John gave evidence that the nickname Jesus gave them—“sons of thunder”—was an apt one. The Samaritans would not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to hated Jerusalem. “When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ Jesus turned and rebuked them...” (Luke 9:54-55). </p><p>James was apparently the first of the apostles to be martyred. “About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword, and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also” (Acts 12:1-3a). </p><p>This James, sometimes called James the Greater, is not to be confused with James the Lesser (May 3) or with the author of the Letter of James and the leader of the Jerusalem community.</p> American Catholic Blog Walk the talk. Show, don’t tell. Values are caught, not taught—all variations of one theme: A good example is essential for good parenting.

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