Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"It's easier for a camel..."



Jesus looked round at his disciples and said to them, "How hard it will be for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!" They were amazed that he should say this, but Jesus insisted, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." They were more astonished than ever, and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked them in the face and said, "For men it is impossible, but not for God; to God everything is possible."  Mark 10:23-27

Do we notice this: Jesus looked round at his disciples. That he made eye contact with each of them. And then a few lines later, Jesus looked them in the face. This religion of ours is very personal. Before anything else, it's Jesus inter-facing with each of us. Do I feel this?

And then these words of Jesus: How hard it will be for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. But Jesus doesn't say what wealthy means. How much is wealthy? I suppose we each have to work that out with him ourselves. "But I've gotta make a living, Jesus!" Is that always what we're always doing? What's my heart-stance about these things? We resent and grouse about the salaries of the athletes, the politicians, the actors and actresses and the Wall Street folks, but truth be told, who'd turn down their kind of income? 

And then there's these well-known Jesus-words, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle..." This is hyperbole, like, "If I keep eating like this, I'll be as big as a house," Hyperbole is a deliberate exaggeration to make a point. In this case, wealth prevents us from living in and under God's rule. You can't have it all ways: living in God's purposes and possessing. 

But I'd suggest wealth isn't limited to just what's in my wallet, stock portfolio, checking or savings accounts, or the home vault (some folks have one). Jesus won't have his followers taking up with idols. And an idol is whatever I pay more attention to than God. So while there's the money-idol, there's also the resentment-idol, the gun-idol, the hate-idol, the power-idol, the pornography idol, the militarization-idol. Human hearts get cluttered very easily, and Jesus knows it.

"For men it is impossible, but not for God; to God everything is possible." That's just another invitation Jesus extends to us to let God in more deeply than we do, or think we do. The Christian way is very much about divesting. So does that mean we all have to become monks and nuns? No, but I know more than a few people who follow the rule of St. Basil: "If you have not used it in a year, it no longer belongs to you, but to the poor." 

We're told twice in these verses that the disciples were "amazed" and "more astonished than ever." Lots of Christians think following Jesus is about his comforting us. Sometimes. On the other hand, I may identify as a Christian, but when the gospel doesn't shock me, amaze me, unnerve me, disturb or astonish me personally, I've stopped living spiritually. This religion of ours is personal: Jesus "looks me in the face." 

6 comments:

  1. I have always wondered what this meant and how hard it is to get to heaven. Looking at all the saintly people in the world who make large personal sacrifices, I don't see how I am good enough at all.

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    1. Well, I don't know who you are or what you have in mind when you say about yourself, "I don't see how I am good enough..." But I do believe that Jesus is very much pleased with our every effort and the desires and longings of our hearts. Vis-a-Vis this Gospel section again, the Rule of St. Basil helps us get started: "If you haven not used it in a year, it no longer belongs to you, but to the poor." I can do that.

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  2. I love when you put our thoughts into words. "But Jeus...". This makes sense. Let Him in more deeply and follow Him right into heaven through the eye of that needle.

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  3. How important it is to look someone in the eye and really see then. It makes the connection between two people stronger and allows for better understanding and perception.

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  4. Father,
    What does a person do when they find out that their priest is not the holy and pious man that they want you to believe? It is hard to respect someone who doesn't lead by example. How do I not let it affect me?

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  5. Every priest is working out his salvation like the rest of us. If the upset is sex abuse or something seriously criminal - there are phone numbers to call. I had a pastor once who was a terrible bully and I sat him down for a conversation long enough to make things clear. But as with any resentment (negative feelings toward someone) - "Lord, you know I have a resentment with Father X, and even though I don't feel it right now, I ask you to remove it. Take my stony,cold, hard heart and make it into a heart of mercy, compassion and love. Amen." I know this is difficult because the priest is a public person and his weaknesses can drive people away. But it's a good prayer. "Holy and pious" - many priests are aware of how they come in short of the priestly ideals. We all put our head on the pillow at night and have our last thoughts of the day which are often thoughts of having "missed it." I imagine more than a few priests have the words, "Lord, I am not worthy...." stuck in their throats.

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