Rejoice all ye of modest nobility! We can still make it into heaven even if we never become martyrs or spend a year working with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. Today’s gospel tells us that there’s hope for those of us who plod through our ordinary lives trying to obey the commandments and lead generally good lives.
Until writing this reflection and focusing on Jesus’ basic requirement for salvation, I’ve always regarded this passage as a bit of a guilt trip that shames us into greater generosity than we intended as an alternative to selling all of our possessions and giving the money to the poor. Maybe we even banish the guilt by fantasizing that someday we’ll do something heroic, however unlikely that seems.
It’s a great relief to focus on what Jesus actually demands because my own personal “rich young man” experience years ago taught me that I’ll never do anything heroic. Been there, tried that, failed.
I was helping sponsor a Cambodian refugee family and learned how tough it was to be on call 24/7 for more than a year to respond to the unending survival needs of six people. Far from feeling saintly, I resented the ceaseless demands. A day into the process, I knew I would never be Mother Teresa. Six or eight months into it, I wondered if I could still claim to be a Christian.
At just that point, one of Cambodians proposed that I give him my car because we had two, he had none and a woman needed a car less than a man. (He still had a few lessons to learn about American culture.) The rich young man who fled from Jesus had nothing on my reaction to being asked to surrender my wheels. I abandoned all pretense of saintliness, told him no way and taught him how to catch a bus.
Ever since that day, I’ve wondered how people who do heroic things like work in refugee camps in Africa or care for a spouse with Alzheimer’s manage to be noble day after unending day. Is there that much of a gap them and the rest of us?
Maybe this question is irrelevant because in today’s gospel, Jesus isn’t demanding heroic virtue, just ordinary goodness. Far from being a guilt trip, this passage reveals the compassion of Jesus for the vast bulk of us who are doing well to keep the commandments and maybe a little more. .
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