To be Christians, we must first serve the poor
Scripture can challenge our ways of thinking and living. It calls on us to grapple with the world, and it can inspire good and bad actions with its diverse texts. The first reading and the Gospel should prompt appreciation and action, emphasizing the value of wisdom and the need to serve the poor.
‘Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor.’ (Mk 10:21)
Do you value wisdom and prudence, even if it challenges you?
In what ways can you help communities that are poor and vulnerable?
How can you increase your service to others?
The first reading comes from the Wisdom of Solomon, one of the books from the Greek canon of the Old Testament that is included in Catholic and Orthodox Christian Bibles. As in the book of Proverbs (see Nov. 8, 2020 Word column), Woman Wisdom is prominent in the book of Wisdom. Today’s reading depicts a person praying for the arrival of Woman Wisdom, as she is more valuable and more loved than power, riches, health and beauty. The text reminds us to appreciate and seek knowledge and understanding, embracing wisdom in order to live rightly.
The Gospel from Mark reminds us to serve people who are poor, and it challenges us to live selflessly. In the Gospel, Jesus encounters a devout man who asks him what it takes to inherit eternal life. Jesus highlights five of the Ten Commandments: prohibitions against murder, adultery, stealing and bearing false witness and the affirmation to honor parents. According to Mark, Jesus also includes a prohibition against defrauding. This inclusion, which is lacking in Matthew or Luke’s account, might have in mind the law against coveting a neighbor’s possessions (Ex 20:17, Dt 5:21). It could be influenced by a law against withholding earned income (Dt 24:14), and it might reflect a problem of defrauding within Mark’s community.
Jesus affirms Jewish laws and adds to them, insisting to the man: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The interest in care for the poor is foundational to the Gospel. Jesus connects this action to the selfless love that he models through his ministry and through his sacrifice on the Cross. Moreover, he requires his followers to live with others in mind, emphasizing service, action and sacrifice. Note that Jesus tells the person to sell his items and then return to him, suggesting that the selfless action precedes entry into the faith community.
This Gospel is another reminder of putting faith into action. Sometimes this message is visible through Jesus’ healing and service ministry, but today we hear of self-sacrifice as an aspect of full participation in faith in Christ. How do we respond to this command? The man in the Gospel is shocked and sullen over the command to give up his possessions. The disciples are astonished and consider this to be almost an impossibility. Difficult or not, the Gospel is clear in its insistence on care for the poor.
This article also appeared in print, under the headline “Wisdom and Service,” in the October 2021, issue.