Last weekend, I went to a baby shower for my oldest friend. We’ve known each other since kindergarten, and it’s so wonderful that she’s having a baby girl next month! We don’t get to see each other very often, and I hadn’t seen the house she and her husband bought before.
It was nice.
I loved how the kitchen had two entries, one from the hall and the other from the dining room, which was roomy and cozy all at the same time. I loved the bathroom with the big jet tub. And the walk-in closet that was bigger than my bathroom, and had room enough for a vanity. I wasn’t fond of the tile in the bathroom, but whatever. I like color and no one else does. That kitchen was just perfect, though.
I immediately started looking at houses online, and thinking about how horrible our house is. Granted, if I would just take a few days to do the touch-up painting, it would be much improved, but why settle for improved when we could buy something nicer.
Covet, covet, covet. And what’s worse, I thought nothing of it. “It’s just what people my age do,” I told myself. What? It’s what people my age do? What does that even mean?!?!?!? Despite the nonsensical nature of my quest, I continued exploring more expensive houses
My reality call came a few days later as I was reading Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthot on my lunch break. The first few chapters have gone by at a break-neck pace, running down the societal conditions, the philosophers, the publications, everything that created American-style Christianity. As we move into the rise of the prosperity theology, Douthot points to (naturally) the story of the rich young man we also read about in Sunday’s gospel this week. I suppose God knew I needed a double dose of this story this week.
And when he was gone forth into the way, a certain man running up and kneeling before him, asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may receive life everlasting? And Jesus said to him, Why callest thou me good? None is good but one, that is God. Thou knowest the commandments: Do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, bear not false witness, do no fraud, honour thy father and mother. But he answering, said to him: Master, all these things I have observed from my youth. And Jesus looking on him, loved him, and said to him: One thing is wanting unto thee: go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. Who being struck sad at that saying, went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Mark 10:17-22
It’s one of the pillars of Christ’s message here on earth. Sell what you have to benefit the poor. When the disciples don’t get the picture, Jesus gives one of His most famous (and famously misinterpreted) analogies:
And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus again answering, saith to them: Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches, to enter into 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 into the kingdom of God. –Mark 10:24-25
I read a few years ago, that Jesus most likely actually said “rope” instead of “camel” just then. Makes a heck of a lot more sense. In Bad Religion, however, Douthot points something out about this story that I hadn’t thought of before..
Who wondered the more, saying among themselves: Who then can be saved? –Mark 10:26
This message wasn’t something they smugly accepted, given their lack of riches. These guys walked away from what little fortunes they had. They walked away from comfort to follow Christ in poverty and yet when they heard this, they got worried. Whether it was a rope or a camel or a piano, they heard Jesus talking about them, not some rich guy. Why were they worried about it? Because they understood the message. It’s not about having money, it’s about desiring it.
For the desire of money is the root of all evils; which some coveting have erred from the faith, and have entangled themselves in many sorrows. –1Timothy 6:10
Once again, it is not having wealth that stains our souls, it is seeking it. I could be doing something worthwhile. Reading a book, watching a mass, cleaning the house–Scott would love that! Instead, I’m sitting at the computer, looking at houses, slowly increasing our maximum price range, because I want what everyone else has. What I have isn’t poisoning me, it’s what I’m chasing after.
I keep banging my head up against this wall. One minute I’m not concerned with material things, the next, I want to burn every possession I have and replace it with something “nicer.” For every time I push these desires aside, they rise up again 100 times. Sometimes I think I just can’t get my head straight.
And Jesus looking on them, saith: With men it is impossible; but not with God: for all things are possible with God. –Mark 10:27
Here I am, big clumsy camel, trying to work my way through the eye of the needle. Not because of what I have but because of what I want. God’s love is stronger than that. We forget that. We may say it and say we believe it, but at the end of the day, we let ourselves believe that our weaknesses are stronger than God. Every time we say, “I can’t help it. There’s no getting around it,” we are disbelieving the promises of grace.
Jesus, however, understands the deep desire that exists in this person and, the Evangelist notes, turns a loving gaze on him: the gaze of God (cf. v. 21). However, Jesus also realizes what the weak point of that man is: his very attachment to his many possessions; and so he proposes that the man give it all to the poor in order that his treasure — and hence his heart — will no longer be on earth but in heaven, and he adds: “Come, follow me” (v. 21). But, instead of accepting Jesus’ invitation joyfully, the man went away sorrowfully (cf. v. 22) because he can not break away from his riches, that will never give him happiness and eternal life….. The history of the Church is full of examples of rich people who used their possessions in an evangelical way, even attaining holiness. Let us only think of St Francis, St Elizabeth of Hungary or St Charles Borromeo. May the Virgin Mary, Seat of Wisdom, help us to accept Jesus’ invitation joyfully, in order to enter the fullness of life. –Pope Benedict XVI
Aren’t we fortunate, that despite our many temptations, we are given, not only the fullness of grace, the very spirit of God to guide us, but also such a multitude of examples, of people who lived the gospel. They walked in the footsteps of Jesus to make it easier for us to see those footsteps and follow after.
With the election approaching and everyone talking about the economy and what’s in it for their checking account, let’s all pray that we may be invested in what really matters and not distracted by material wealth. Once again, I’m renewing my commitment to love and share what I have, and to truly be thankful for what God has given me, rather than being envious of what God has given someone else.