Daily Mass is a treat for a working girl like me. Usually my work hours conflict with the times. But I had taken a Monday off to deal with inheritance matters after my mother died. Money was very much on my mind as I arrived for morning Mass, as I had been figuring out what still had to be paid, what was left and who was getting how much. Even though my parents left a will with instructions, the distribution of money was getting contentious. I was trying not to get lawyers involved, trying to follow my parents’ wishes while pleasing their descendants, and I seemed to be doing a lousy job of it.
Because God has a wicked sense of humor, the Gospel that day was Mark’s story of the rich young man. This exemplary fellow, you may remember, managed to tell Jesus with a straight face that he regularly obeyed every single commandment all the time, but he didn’t know what else to do to gain eternal life. So Jesus told him to go and sell everything he had, give the money to the poor and then come back and follow him. The young man, Mark tells us, went away sad, for he had many possessions.
We never find out if he ever had a change of heart.
This young man, said the priest that Monday morning in his homily, is the only person in the Gospels who does not heed a direct call from Jesus. Everyone else drops everything and follows Jesus: fishermen, tax collectors, sinful women. The rich young man is more handicapped by his wealth than anyone else is by his or her baggage. Wealth can trap us. It is really hard to let go of our stuff. But when we are not willing to part with our possessions or purses, when we are defined by the dollars we guard and the things we hoard, we cannot even hear the call of Jesus.
As I left church to return to the battlefield of familial negotiations, I imagined telling everyone that I had given all of our parents’ money to the poor. I think I mentioned, though, that I am trying to avoid litigation. I stopped for coffee, and then to see a friend, who knew just what to do. She held my hands and prayed for softened hearts.
Pettiness and ugliness are often the unwelcome guests in a room where money is discussed, and kindness and generosity are sometimes too quiet to be heard above the din. My parents left much to us, money and memories, good blood and bad. The essential part of the story is how we carry forward all that God has given us. I don’t want us to go away sad.