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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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Antonio Lucci: Antonio studied with and was a friend of St. Francesco Antonio Fasani, who after Antonio Lucci’s death testified at the diocesan hearings regarding the holiness of Lucci. 
<p>Born in Agnone in southern Italy, a city famous for manufacturing bells and copper crafts, he was given the name Angelo at Baptism. He attended the local school run by the Conventual Franciscans and joined them at the age of 16. Antonio completed his studies for the priesthood in Assisi, where he was ordained in 1705. Further studies led to a doctorate in theology and appointments as a teacher in Agnone, Ravello and Naples. He also served as guardian in Naples. </p><p>Elected minister provincial in 1718, the following year he was appointed professor at St. Bonaventure College in Rome, a position he held until Pope Benedict XIII chose him as bishop of Bovino (near Foggia) in 1729. The pope explained, "I have chosen as bishop of Bovino an eminent theologian and a great saint." </p><p>His 23 years as bishop were marked by visits to local parishes and a renewal of gospel living among the people of his diocese. He dedicated his episcopal income to works of education and charity. At the urging of the Conventual minister general, Bishop Lucci wrote a major book about the saints and blesseds in the first 200 years of the Conventual Franciscans. </p><p>He was beatified in 1989, three years after his friend Francesco Antonio Fasani was canonized.</p> American Catholic Blog Father, we are all sinners. I am a sinner. I beg for the grace to never judge the actions of others, since it is possible that I might do the same things if I were in their situation. I ask this in Jesus's name, Amen.

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