Daily Reflection
August 18th, 2008

Robert P. Heaney

John A. Creighton University Professor
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

Post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism has emphasized the compassion of Jesus and the love of God for all of creation, and rightly so. But even a superficial reading of the Gospels reveals that interactions with Jesus were often disquieting and uncomfortable. Today’s Gospel passage is surely one example. I confess that I am uncomfortable reading it. It measures me, and I come up short.

The man who asked Jesus the question was, apparently, morally upright and sincerely interested in doing good. It is interesting that the set of commandments which Jesus lists are those related to human interactions in society. He skips the first three commandments entirely, those setting forth the relationship of humans with God. Those responsibilities are covered in Jesus’ second suggestion, that the man sell all he has, give the money to the poor, and then follow Jesus.

But the man had many possessions, and did not know how he could do that – was not sure he wanted to.

How can we transform this counsel of Jesus from seemingly unrealizable ideal to practical day-by-day living? We cannot all literally do as St. Francis of Assisi did. Someone has to maintain the roads, practice medicine, teach school, keep the airlines flying, tend to the crops. Still there is no avoiding the fact that, like the man in the Gospel, I am possessed by my possessions. It is not just that I like them, not just that I would prefer having them to doing without. Basically it is that they command my attention. I have to protect them, maintain them. I am responsible for their wise use. That occupies so much of my attention, pushes itself up so high on my priority list, that I do not have time or energy for the more important things – concern for the poor and working for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth.

In this Gospel story, Jesus seems to give the rich man an option: “If you wish to be perfect . . .” But that is not an escape hatch for us. Elsewhere Jesus tells us that we must be perfect, “as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). I do not know the right way to deal with my possessions. I suspect there is no one right way. But I do believe that such wisdom is a gift that we need constantly, tirelessly, to ask God for. I do know, also, that wealth and possessions are to be used for others, not for one’s self. But even there, concerns for how to do that correctly brings us full circle: our possessions are still possessing us!

Lord, help me untie this knot!

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