Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Gospel of Reversals

Coptic Christians pray in the destroyed church of St. Moses ~ Egypt
At this Peter spoke. "We here," he said, "have left everything to become your followers." Jesus said, "I tell you this: there is no one who has given up home, brothers or sisters, mother, father or children, or land, for my sake and for the Gospel, who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much - houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and land - and persecutions besides; and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last and the last first." Mark 10:28-31

This Gospel passage follows the episode where the rich young man departed from Jesus, sad, because Jesus had said, "It's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  

Peter, who always speaks plainly, is doubtful here and wants to know what's in it for himself and the other apostles who have given up everything to be Jesus' followers. That seems to be a valid enough question.

If we give away everything for God's Kingdom, then we'll be among the poor, the insignificant and the powerless. So of course the rich man walked away from Jesus feeling sad: Jesus had effectively declared: "Everything you think is essential, I think is a distraction." 

The teachings of Jesus often contain reversals: Many who are first will be last and the last first." And St. Paul's letter to the Philippians (2:6-11) says:  

Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross. And for this God raised him high, and gave him the name which is above all other names; so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus, and that every tongue should acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The Gospels begin with this message of reversals when the first to hear the news of Jesus' birth are shepherd-outsiders.  What a challenge: Oh Jesus, show me how to make your teaching my own. Our country is a shoppers paradise. Imagine if once a month each Christian would forfeit buying even one thing that, quite honestly, isn't essential. Some might criticize us for not being patriotic, for not helping the economy. But that's not what's on Jesus' mind; he wants us completely un-distracted in pursuing God's rule.

The other side of it is, if we've given it all away, we'll find all we really require, plus encouragement and support, in Christian community. When we set out to be real Christians (and not just church-goers) we make that decision alone, but we don't stay alone, as we discover there are other searchers alongside us. But we have a lot of work to do in this regard.

An elderly Catholic man and his sickly wife were becoming shut-ins and increasingly unable to take care of their property and home, such that the front grass grew up knee high. A Baptist neighbor finally went over and mowed it all down and tidied up the place. Some days later the Baptist man was talking with a Catholic neighbor and said to him, "You Catholics don't even take care of your own." Perhaps hard to take, but Jesus sometimes puts the gospel in our faces, just like that.

Then Jesus adds a kind of P.S. - that if we follow him this closely, we can expect trouble. The Coptic Christian men seen praying together at the top of this post, they understand, praying in their bombed and burned out church.


8 comments:

  1. This is still a hard Gospel to comprehend if we believe we are to give up everything to make us better followers of Jesus. If we are to sell everything we own, and live poorly, then we will be in need of charity ourselves. Are we supposed to sell our possessions and our homes and live more simply in some cabin in the woods and educate our kids and sew our own clothes and hunt our own food in order to be closer to God? Or maybe this means "Give until it hurts." I just think that we make our way in this world the best that we can and owning a TV or a nice car or some nice clothes doesn't make us bad people or keep us from being good Christians. I pray to find the Glory of God in my life without such severe sacrifice. I am like the rich man walking away sad.

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  2. I guess we have to take up our complaints and objections with Jesus. I don't know how to make this work for today. But I do know this: we are always beginning, and so I try hard to stay detached, to own less, not to buy into commercials and sales pitches and the American thing of "having to have." And as I've said elsewhere, I try hard to follow the rule of St. Basil, "If you haven't used it in a year, it's no longer yours, but belongs to the poor." I get that. I've down-sized about 10 times in my life. I think Jesus would understand your/my objections or struggle. He'd be pleased to know we take him seriously in this regard and try to step out into his "God-first" invitation. Bottom line: the American idea of "shoppers paradise" probably wouldn't fly with Jesus. It was Mother Teresa who said, "Give until it hurts you." Some Christians have never felt that.

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    1. Amen Father. You always know how to make a point clearer.

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  3. I am always happy to find fellow searchers along the way. I believe strongly in the support that a community of people can offer, especially to one who is suffering or in some sort of need. It is important to have someone looking out for you that goes beyond your immediate family who may be in the same situation with the same needs. Maybe we are supposed to give all of ourselves, not our earthly possessions to make our way to heaven. I believe this might truly be harder than passing through the eye of the needle. How many people would you drop everything for if they called on you for help?

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    1. Indeed, the "possession" of time and energy and interest! For fifteen years I was chaplain to a school-community for teens who had lost their way. Many of the staff members were in AA and so I became very familiar with their approach to sober living. I knew that there were people there who I could call at 2 a.m. in the middle of January and they'd drive 50 miles to help me if I was in trouble or serious need. This is why it's often said that there's more Christianity going on in church basements than upstairs. Church basements being where AA meetings often are held. At any AA meeting, when someone presents himself/herself as "new" or a first-timer, that person is surrounded with introductions and phone numbers at meeting's end. That's got to start happening in our Catholic parishes. It DOES happen in evangelical churches, which are often filled with former Catholics. Church is an US.

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  4. The priest should never make the Gospel word mellow or soft. Jesus said what he said. It's up to us to try to understand how his words can be realisitically lived today. Of course, with everything else we attempt, we always come in short. I trust Jesus understands and is patient in the extreme - the way a mother is with a child who is learning to walk. And how pleased that mother is when the child takes even faltering steps and when the child falls, the mother doesn't make an irritated fuss or throw up her hands in rejection or dismay. But is glad, full of encouragement and enthusiasm. The Church calls herself, "Mother" and so must learn and practice this Mother-Method.

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  5. Thank you Fr. Stephen for this post. I got just as much from the comments as I did the post. The picture struck a chord in my heart. Made me feel spoiled and like a hypocrite. I always enjoyed the part in C.S.Lewis's Mere Christianity when he talks about becoming a 'New Man' that everyone has certain difficulties which are more difficult to overcome than it would be for someone else. For some it might be resentment, anger, materialism, self-love, addiction of sorts, a few of these, all of these, etc. And C.S. Lewis compared the two people in a scenario that if someone who fights each day with God sincerely not to resent (for example) and falls short one day by telling someone off in a way which is still 100 times nicer than how they would have delt with it in years past or even the day before; and the one who does not have a problem with resentment and is 'Just Nice' who can just respectfully leave a situation with no eternal work needed C.S. Lewis poses Who is becoming the New Man?; Who is Trying in this life? Who is more pleasing to God? Ultimately God knows what is in our Heart, He knows if we are trying? If we are not? And for each of Us God will teach us how to live in accordance to His Will if We Desire to do so. And I know I can always do more. Thanks again Fr. Stephen.

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  6. And thank you, Brother Aaron, for sharing this important story.

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