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A Reflection for Monday the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Find today’s readings here.

If all things are possible for God, then why is the world so messed up? It is a complicated question.

In the Gospel of Mark, when a young, rich man runs up to Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, we’re invited to not approach Jesus naively but ready for complexity. Jesus doesn’t embrace what many of us would readily love to say about ourselves—that we are “good.” It is shocking that the Gospel account quotes Jesus saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Jesus is denying his own goodness, and this is important.

He begins the conversation by being in solidarity with the man: “Hey, we all have faults.” As we know, in many Gospel accounts Jesus gets scared, angry, and sometimes even despondent. This is crucial if we are to understand him in his own context. The young people I teach are very comforted by his imperfection, and so am I. Let’s face it, how could I possibly have Jesus model the kind of human I am called to be if he is perfect? Humans are flawed, and following Jesus doesn’t mean being flawless, it means recognizing those flaws, learning from them and trying again.

The Gospel also preserves this tiny moment in the conversation when “Jesus, looking at him, loved him,” then goes on to say that the man is “lacking in one thing.” He commands: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."

Notice the progression: Jesus says, “I am not good” (while addressing a man who thinks very highly of himself) and then adopts a loving posture before pointing out what is standing between the man and God. What we see in this dialogue is that in the small community where he lived, Jesus knew the man, and he knew all about his wealth. How many charity events do we see where people with loads of money show up just so other people with loads of money will see them and think them “good”?

It’s no wonder the things Jesus said astonished his contemporaries! We hear it in the reaction to his words here, as well as earlier in the Gospel when he teaches in the synagogue (Mark 6:2). In the longer account of that event (preserved in Luke 4:16-30) we get details: Jesus’ teachings are about the poor and the glad tidings he is bringing to them. We can surmise that this rich man already knows Jesus has been everywhere teaching that the present world has to change. Maybe he wants Jesus to give him a pass from all that changing? What the young rich man doesn’t realize is that the change demanded of him is the “glad tidings” for the poor! If we actually love God, then we have to choose to build the Reign with Jesus, and the Reign starts now. Without each of us collaborating to ensure that no one goes hungry or thirsty, that the sick are cared for and the oppressed set free, God’s beautiful Reign cannot come fully into being.

At the end of this Gospel’s “astonishing” teaching Jesus proclaims that “All things are possible for God.” Here’s the key to answer our question! The love of God, visible in the love Jesus shows this man, is what makes all things possible. Because of that love and in that love each one of us, when presented with the choice of being selfish or self-giving, are empowered to choose generosity. The love of God will tell us we are worthy people in spite of our failings, and that love will call us to make better choices. The love of God will move us to create a world where no one goes hungry.

I have hope for the man in this story. Yes, “he went away sad, for he had many possessions,” but the Gospel doesn’t say what happened after that. I like to imagine him saying to himself “I have to give up some of this stuff and do what Jesus asked… because I just can’t forget the love in his eyes. I want that love much more than I want my stuff.”

Discovering we are loved and have the capacity to love will change the world. Jesus invites us to make the impossible possible with God.

More: Scripture

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