Tag Archives: riches

6 August: A gift of love and sorrow, VI.

Gate to Jesus Hospital, Canterbury

We have come to the final element in the encounter between the rich young man and Jesus (Mark 10:17-22). It is significant that Jesus, despite – or because of – his love for the young man, does not make an exception for him, does not say, ‘Okay. I like you. I’ll make you a deal. You can keep all your wealth in reserve somewhere. Follow me anyway.’ No. Following Jesus and hoarding wealth are diametrically opposed. The poor have a claim on our material prosperity, according to Jesus (Mk 10: 21). A complete life-change must be undertaken by the wealthy that accommodates itself to others’ needs before a life lived with Jesus can be undertaken.

So: it looks pretty bad for the rich young man, whom I, too, have now begun to love. In losing Jesus he loses everything worth having, and his previously easy life suddenly becomes drenched in sorrow. Mark tells us that his face falls and he ‘goes away sad.’ I am certain that this is true.

But I still wonder: is it as bad as it looks for the rich young man? Is everything really over for him? I think of him reflecting on what he experienced with Jesus. He will not forget this encounter. He will remember it to the end of his life. And this may be his salvation.

Some final thoughts begin to take shape in my mind as I mentally say good-bye to a much-loved young man. I reflect that, ordinarily, the gospels show that some profound sorrow or disease – or both – is actually what opens people up to receive Jesus’ life, his love, his healing, his teaching about the Kingdom. For them, their woundedness, whether physical or moral or spiritual, is an unexpected blessing that enables them to gain the true treasure, which is Jesus.

But for others, the whole thing works in reverse–or it can. In the case of the rich young man, he comes to Jesus ‘nearly perfect,’ not conscious of woundedness or moral failings. When he leaves Jesus he feels much worse than he did when he arrived. He has been afflicted with a profound wound of sorrow. There are many, many untold stories in the gospels. We do not know exactly what happens to the rich young man after he ‘goes away sad.’ We know only that Jesus gives him the gift of a deep sorrow, the likes of which the young man had probably never known before in his life of wealth, comfort and cheer.

But wait. We know something else, too. Jesus gives him another gift to take away–and just as important: a moment of the most perfect human fulfilment. Jesus had been filled with love for him, and had looked at him with love. We are back to the idea with which we began our reflection: Mark’s insistence on Jesus’ look of love. This is of vital importance to Mark and it is even easier now to see why. We are talking about God-made-man looking at the rich young man with love. This look will be deeper and more profoundly moving than anything else he will ever experience. This combination of sorrow and love, it seems to me, is a combination that, given time, cannot fail to have affected the young man, to have opened him up, to have made him rethink his priorities, reconsider his actions. True, there is nothing in Jesus’ loving look to force the young man into acquiescence: he was free to refuse Jesus and he did. But, let’s note that he refused Jesus’ invitation right then. A door remains open to him; Jesus doesn’t stop loving people. There was still a chance to become a Christian later and to be healed of his sorrow and receive the joy of life in Christ. His life after this experience need not be a complete tragedy.

For those of us who may recognise ourselves in this story, who fear we may have lost the love of Christ forever along with our chance to be his follower, I think we can assume that Mark would hold that it doesn’t work like that. Jesus’ look of love lasts forever. The rich young man was eager, open and willing, but unprepared for the cost involved in following Jesus. He needed to grow up, to grow into Jesus’ love. The gift–the ‘package’–of sorrow and of love is powerful. The young man arrived at Jesus’ feet unprepared, he went away both loved and sorrowing. Through this gift, and over time, preparation for life with Christ was possible to him, as it is for anyone. Let’s hope he made that preparation and returned later, maybe after Jesus’ death, to join the growing community of Christians. Shall we join, too?

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5 August: A gift of love and sorrow, V.

Mark reports that Jesus says, ‘You need to do one thing more’ (Mark 10:21). This very gentle remark of Jesus accompanies his gaze of love. Jesus seems to be tenderly overlooking the young man’s sense of himself as being perfect–or nearly so. Surely, Jesus knows that there is not only “one thing” but many things the young man needs to do or become, but Jesus may be thinking that there will be time enough for the young man to come to terms with his weaknesses and to acquire a more realistic estimation of himself. For the moment, Jesus knows that if he can just persuade him to do only ‘one very important thing more,’ that very important thing will enable the young man well and truly to begin a deeper life, rooted in God: ‘Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’ (Mark 10:21).

And, tragically, here the conversation ends. The delightful young man with the “can do” personality suddenly confronts something he cannot do. Possibly, his life has been a bit too easy up to now and he knows it. That may be one of the reasons why he is there to begin with, kneeling before Jesus. But the effect of Jesus’ words is immediate.

The young man clearly didn’t expect Jesus to say that. And indeed, wealth was considered by the Jewish people to be a sign of God’s favour and blessing. “What’s this about?” he may well have thought. But he doesn’t linger to discuss the matter with Jesus. Had he done so, Jesus might have explained that the Kingdom belonged to the poor in spirit and that wealth, with its trappings of glamour and its conferral of undeserved honour, was a spiritual handicap. In any case, now we reach the part of the story where the rich young man ceases to be an example of how to win Jesus’ love (although I do not doubt that Jesus continued to love him deeply). At this stage in the story the young man becomes an example of the paradox that we lose everything when we attempt to save everything–for we who read this know that Jesus himself is ‘everything’ and he is more than worth the loss of everything else. Indeed, the loss of everything else is the condition for gaining a close relationship with Jesus. It is a small price to pay.

A small price, but I am asking myself now what I am trying to hang onto that may be separating me from a close relationship with Jesus. I will stay with that uncomfortable question for a day and return tomorrow.

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2 August: A Gift of Love and Sorrow, II.

We are continuing Sister Johanna’s reflection on Jesus and the rich young man. She advises: ‘If you’ve just joined us, I hope you will scroll back to yesterday’s post to see where we’ve come from and where we are going.’

Today, I return to the beginning of the story of the rich young man in Mark 10:17-22 in order to read it again more slowly, to see if I can answer the questions with which we ended yesterday’s reflection. And maybe, with the Spirit’s help, I can. I take my time, allowing my imagination gently to engage with the words of the text. I notice that, first, Mark tells us that Jesus is about to start on a journey. I slowly picture it. It’s always difficult to get started on a journey, no matter what century you happen to live in. Somehow organising yourself and others for the trip and thanking hosts and saying good-bye to dear friends and family always takes much longer than planned. When you’re finally ready to leave, you’re loath to be delayed again. If something happens to interfere with the departure it is usually dealt with as quickly as possible and with more than a hint of exasperation.

Enter: the rich young man. The fact that Jesus’ journey is about to begin places the young man at some disadvantage; nevertheless, he bursts onto the scene and ‘runs up’ to Jesus (Mk. 10:17). Some people, afraid of causing inconvenience, would have given up before they began and gone home without meeting Jesus, and ordinarily, this might be the wise thing to do. But not in the judgement of the young man of our story. He seems to realise that meeting Jesus is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that must not be thrown away. Perhaps because he is a rich man (and people are usually rather in awe of the rich), no one there tries to circumvent this encounter with Jesus in order to spare Jesus the inconvenience. Nor does Jesus indicate that the delay is a problem to him. Indeed, we see again and again in the gospels that Jesus is always ready to talk to someone who is sincerely seeking him. And the young man is nothing if not sincere.

So, the young man ‘runs up’ to Jesus. This is another detail that is in Mark and not the other gospels. I try to enter fully into Mark’s experience of this event. I see the young man. He looks an intelligent person, he’s attractive–as the rich often seem to be because they can afford the best clothes and the best, most skilled people to groom their hair and skin; he is, therefore, well dressed, but at this moment he’s actually rather a mess. He is hot and breathless from running–he has, for now, forgotten his usual rich-boy persona and slick appearance. He has, in fact, forgotten himself entirely in his desire to see Jesus.

And Jesus? He is silent at first, according to the text. He lets the young man state his business. But Jesus cannot miss the earnestness in him. Moreover, the young man immediately kneels before Jesus. Mark’s touch again. The kneeling impressed Mark, and I can see why. The rich young man could have presumed upon the status conferred by his wealth. He could have stood before Jesus, eye to eye, man to man. But he does not. The rich man puts aside all privilege and kneels down. He has grasped something essential about Jesus: he has grasped Jesus’ greatness.

I’m looking, as I said yesterday, for what the rich young man can teach me. Jesus will look at him with love in a few minutes. Why? Many reasons have already been given here. The young man’s urgency and his determination to see Jesus, his self-forgetfulness, his sincerity, his awareness of Jesus’ greatness and his own comparative littleness, his spontaneous decision to kneel down.

I want to give this opening scene time to become fruitful in me and allow these reasons for Jesus’ love the space they need to locate themselves within my heart and prayer. I want to be that young man for a little while–a full day. Tomorrow, we will continue.

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August 1: A Gift of Love and Sorrow, I.

Sister Johanna of Minster Abbey has been getting to grips with the Gospel of Saint Mark, and that old question, what must I do to inherit eternal life? You’ll find the next few days’ readings well worth spending time with; thank you Sister!

Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You shall not kill; You shall not commit adultery You shall not steal; You shall not give false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these since my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at him and he was filled with love for him, and he said, ‘You need to do one thing more. Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth (Mark 10:17-22, translation: New Jerusalem Bible).

I.

Some biblical passages are particularly fertile ground, and for me, the story of the rich young man is one of them.* I find it a haunting tale; it is hard to let go of it; it is always in my mind, always pulling me back to itself. So I want to give in to the pull and return to this story now.

All the synoptic gospels tell the story of the rich young man (see Luke 18:18-23; Matthew 10:16-22; Mark 10:17-22). The reflections for this post will come from my reading of Mark’s account because Mark has some important details that don’t appear in the other accounts. And I’m grateful that Mark’s memory seized on these differences and wouldn’t let them go; his account of the rich young man’s meeting with Jesus has changed the way I view him. Previously, I had found myself reacting strongly against ‘that rich boy,’ as I tended to call him: I wanted to tell him off! Because of Mark, everything’s changed.

So, what does Mark’s story have that is so important? I want to start with something he says at the end of his account; he tells us that Jesus looks at the young man with love (Mk 10: 21). Neither Matthew nor Luke mention this; only Mark. Mark clearly wants us to notice this and so I follow his lead and allow those words to affect me deeply. In fact, I cannot go on; I stop reading. Everything slows down as I allow his phrase to settle in my soul. I try to imagine Jesus’ gaze of love; I become aware that I intensely want Jesus to look at me with love. How wonderful to receive that look–the softening warmth of the eyes, the gentle smile, the lingering gaze, the moments of silence. What has the young man done or said, I want to know, that awakens Jesus’ love? Can the rich young man teach me something about what Jesus is looking for? Can he teach you? Let’s allow these questions to work on us until tomorrow when we will continue our meditation.

SJC

* I have written about the story of the rich young man before in these posts (see 7 and 8 December 2020).

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25 September, Season of Creation XXVI: the globalisation of indifference. Laudato Si’ X.

51. Inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries; it compels us to consider an ethics of international relations. A true “ecological debt” exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time. The export of raw materials to satisfy markets in the industrialised north has caused harm locally, as for example in mercury pollution in gold mining or sulphur dioxide pollution in copper mining.

The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming. There is also the damage caused by the export of solid waste and toxic liquids to developing countries, and by the pollution produced by companies which operate in less developed countries in ways they could never do at home. Generally, they leave behind great human and environmental liabilities such as unemployment, abandoned towns, the depletion of natural reserves, deforestation, the impoverishment of agriculture and local stock breeding, open pits, riven hills, polluted rivers and a handful of social works which are no longer sustainable”.

52. The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them, yet this is not the case where ecological debt is concerned. In different ways, developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future. The land of the southern poor is rich and mostly unpolluted, yet access to ownership of goods and resources for meeting vital needs is inhibited by a system of commercial relations and ownership which is structurally perverse. As the United States bishops have said, greater attention must be given to “the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate often dominated by more powerful interests”. We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalisation of indifference.

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7 May: Praying with Pope Francis

Looking from Greenwich to London’s Docklands financial sector. Saint Paul’s Cathedral is all-but invisible to the left.

Universal Intention: – The World Of Finance
Let us pray that those in charge of finance will work with governments to regulate the financial sphere and protect citizens from its dangers.

I guess Pope Francis feels he has had his share of being let down by those in charge of finance! It always seems to be the poorest who suffer most when finances go wrong, both at a personal and a national level. Company executives remain wealthy when their businesses go bust, while their workers lose jobs and the pensions they had been paying into. Indebted countries find their debts rising at the same time as opportunities vanish to earn more from trade and so pay off debts. And don’t ask about covid vaccinations!

Rich nations often owe part of their prosperity to exploitation of workers or other assets overseas; there is an obligation to restore fairness in trade and to protect citizens of this one world from the dangers of unfair trade, which may persist for generations.

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8 December: One Good Deed, II.

Yesterday we were reflecting on the story of the rich young man, as told by Matthew (19:16-22). We saw that the young man has just asked Jesus which commandments are necessary for entry into eternal life, as though he is hoping he will not have to pay too high a price. I have read this story many times, but I was surprised, as though for the first time, to realise that Jesus does seem to reduce the price for this young man. He lists only six commandments: ‘You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false witness. Honour your father and mother. You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ This begins to seem like that quintessentially middle-eastern pastime: bartering and haggling. Maybe Jesus is happy to play this game a bit with the young man; maybe he hopes to win him round; perhaps we can imagine Jesus with a little smile here, a sidelong glance as he takes ten commandments and reduces them to six.

Then, astonishingly to me, the young man seems to think he’s got these six covered. I go back and reread the commandments given here and I concede that, ok, the first five of them are straightforward enough: you either have or you haven’t committed the sins they forbid. But the sixth one is, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ I wonder who can possibly boast of keeping this commandment perfectly. Human interactions are so complicated, and riddled with sad opportunities for causing offense. But the young man seems to be saying, “Easy!” to all of them. “Well, am I in?” he silently challenges. And Jesus is never at a loss to understand the unspoken question.

Not so fast, Jesus seems to say. And now we come to the place where Jesus is no longer playing. He becomes absolutely serious here. Let’s take this slowly. ‘If you wish to be perfect…’ he begins. Can there be a touch of irony here on Jesus’ part? Our rich boy thinks he’s perfect already. But Jesus will not reinforce his mistaken view of himself. He gives him a deeper challenge: ‘…go and sell your possessions….’ The man’s blood runs cold for a moment. Jesus probably detects it, and so he both appeals to his generosity and, at the same time, calls his bluff with regard to that love of neighbour he claims to have mastered. He tells the young man, ‘…give the money to the poor.’

I notice for the first time now that it is only money that is gained from selling his material possessions that the young man is told to give away. This would constitute a sort of excess, over and above the money he lives on. Jesus isn’t asking him to make himself destitute. But he is asking him something that involves a life-style change. If he sells his ‘possessions’, it probably means his house and what’s inside it. The young man would probably have thought that if those things go, what would protect him from a life of homelessness? The loss of cherished personal treasures, large and small, that give him a sense of identity, emotional comfort and security – how would he manage without all that? Jesus probably sees him turn pale, and quickly promises him a different kind of security: ‘You will have treasure in heaven,’ he offers. The young man had asked, after all, about attaining eternal life. Here is his ‘how to’ manual. This treasure in heaven, Jesus implies, is so much better than the one he is so scared to lose now. As I ponder these lines, I recall from my own experience that you simply can’t tell how freeing it is to get rid of your possessions by merely looking at it from a safe distance and trying to imagine what it will be like; this state of joyful freedom and openness to God is a gift given by Jesus’ Spirit in our hearts, but it only comes after you have made the renunciation. This is something I’d have wanted to tell the young man, had I been there. But no one else intrudes upon this, by now, intense exchange.

Finally, Jesus issues the ultimate and most privileged invitation of all. He says to the young man: ‘Come! Follow me!’ You will have a life of immense purpose and profound meaning with me. I will give you joy now, and lead you to attain what you have asked for: eternal life. But the rich young man cannot fathom this. He cannot see beyond the cost, and it costs far more than he had expected. And by now he is beyond haggling. He feels the full weight of this exchange with Jesus and it has oppressed his spirits. He turns his back on Jesus and leaves him, a very sad young man indeed.

The tragedy of the young man’s situation comes home to me again. But this time, as I see him walk away with his head down, I am suddenly reminded of other stories. First, Zacchaeus comes to mind, the rich tax collector in Luke who climbs a tree to see Jesus in the crowd, and later, invites Jesus to his home, where he throws a huge party for him, after joyfully offering to give huge amounts of his money to anyone he had cheated. The joy of Zacchaeus leaps from the pages. It’s the same with Matthew – another tax collector – called to be one of the Twelve. He throws a big party, too. Or I think of Our Lady, who gives her very body, her whole being, her life, everything: the sublime joy of her Magnificat echoes through the millennia. And her cousin Elizabeth: the unborn baby in her womb leaps for joy at the presence of the young, pregnant Mary. Elizabeth understands in her soul that Mary’s self-gift, and her own, will bring God our Saviour into the world. What greater joy can there be? I recall the overflow of loving emotion in the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair. I think of the story of the prodigal son. It ends with a great celebration for the wayward son who returns to his father. The bitter, jealous elder brother excludes himself from the celebration, but the father would welcome him with joy in a moment, if he showed up at the door. Everywhere in the Gospels Jesus gives joy beyond imagining to those who surrender to his love, dedicate themselves to him, and say yes to his invitation to follow him. Only those who resist his grace are left in sorrow, but it is a sorrow of their own devising. They could end it in a moment by returning to the Lord and answering his call.

We must choose then. The deepest kind of joy is easily within our grasp. And maybe in the end, only one good deed is needed. The deed of choosing Jesus over all other things.

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11 August: Brownings XXIII: what do you meet at every turn?

I love you because I love you; I see you ‘once a week’ because I cannot see you all day long; I think of you all day long, because I most certainly could not think of you once an hour less, if I tried, or went to Pisa, or ‘abroad’ (in every sense) in order to ‘be happy’ … a kind of adventure which you seem to suppose you have in some way interfered with.

Do, for this once, think, and never after, on the impossibility of your ever (you know I must talk your own language, so I shall say—) hindering any scheme of mine, stopping any supposable advancement of mine. Do you really think that before I found you, I was going about the world seeking whom I might devour, that is, be devoured by, in the shape of a wife … do you suppose I ever dreamed of marrying? What would it mean for me, with my life I am hardened in—considering the rational chances; how the land is used to furnish its contingent of Shakespeare’s women: or by ‘success,’ ‘happiness’ &c. &c. you never never can be seeing for a moment with the world’s eyes and meaning ‘getting rich’ and all that?

Yet, put that away, and what do you meet at every turn, if you are hunting about in the dusk to catch my good, but yourself?

from The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846

A few words from Robert for a change. Elizabeth must have been quite a talker in their one visit per week, his head seems to be reeling, but the love is plain enough.

The clasped hands of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, cast by Harriet Hosmer, Metropolitan Museum of Art. This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

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16 June, Heart VII: If you forget …

Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.

Deuteronomy 8:17-19.

‘That’s not a threat, it’s a promise!’ as one of my old teachers used to say, not necessarily to great effect. I wonder whether some of us are looking at our pre-lockdown lives and realising that a sense of self-importance has crept into our hearts our and veins. It’s encouraged by so many aspects of our life: the cult of celebrity and of riches — with the conspicuous spending that can go with it; competition and the riches that accompany elite sports players; the vastly higher pay given to people with clean hands.

At Pentecost time, let’s pray for wisdom as we come out of lockdown, and for a love of our planet that will provide a sustainable future for all creatures of our God and King.

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16 January: Thomas Traherne XXV, a little Heaven in the creatures.

earthnasa

Entering thus far into the nature of the sun, we may see a little Heaven in the creatures.

Were all the earth filthy mires, or devouring quicksands, firm land would be an unspeakable treasure. Were it all beaten gold it would be of no value. It is a treasure therefore of far greater value to a noble spirit than if the globe of the earth were all gold. A noble spirit being only that which can survey it all, and comprehend its uses.

The air is better being a living miracle as it now is than if it were crammed and filled with crowns and sceptres. The mountains are better than solid diamonds, and those things which scarcity maketh jewels (when you enjoy these) are yours in their places. Why should you not render thanks to God for them all?

You are the Adam or the Eve that enjoy them. Why should you not exult and triumph in His love who hath done so great things for you? Why should you not rejoice and sing His praises? Learn Adam&Eve (391x640)to enjoy what you have first, and covet more if you can afterwards.

Meditations 2:12

Adam and Eve had been given all that was in the garden, except that they might not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, covetable though it was.

How long does the pleasure last when we get hold of the riches or other things we desire? 

We like the idea of the living air, so we’ll return to Thomas Traherne, since his reflections challenge as well as please us; apologies that we left it so long since last time.

Will T

Images: NASA; stone at Dryburgh Abbey, Scottish Borders, MMB.

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