At our monthly Franciscan meeting last night, we were discussing yesterday's Gospel about the rich man who asked Jesus what he must do to enter Heaven. Jesus answers with some basic commandments; to not murder, to respect his parents, to be faithful in marriage. Pretty obvious stuff to anyone who is looking to be a decent person...or to keep him/herself out of prison at the very least.
The rich man seems to say, "yeah, yeah, got all that covered". He wants to know what else he can do. So Jesus tells him what he must do to be perfect; sell all he owns, give it to the poor, and become His disciple. Dejected, the man walks away, knowing he will never reach a standard like that.
It's hard to NOT identify with the rich man, which is why this passage always bugs me when I read it. Being a good person is not enough for Jesus. No, now I've got to be perfect, sell my house, and leave my family destitute. Is that what Jesus is asking me to do?
Thank God, no.
I spoke about my discomfort at the meeting about this very thing...how could Jesus be asking this of me, or any person with a family and any responsibilities? Doesn't this make anyone who is not in a cloistered, contemplative religious community as a monk or nun a hypocrite? Our formation director listened patiently as I rambled on, the picture of quiet undedrstanding. When I was through, he asked me a question ; "Do you really believe Jesus is commanding you to be perfect? Would Jesus as you know Him ask this of you or anyone, knowing how impossible it is?"
I thought for a bit; No, Jesus couldn't be asking that of me. He knows me, and He knows my humanity all too well. Jesus wouldn't ask me to be perfect. He would however, ask me to go beyond the basics. He would, however ask me to do more than refraining from homicide or cheating on my wife. He would ask me to stretch myself, to set the ultimate goal for myself by imitating Him, to attempt to "be perfect as Our Father in Heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:47). Jesus is not asking me to sell everything I own to follow Him; Jesus is imploring me to be thankful for what I have and not be owned by my possessions instead of the other way around. I am happy to have a house...but I shouldn't put myself in hock to make sure I have the same size dormer as everyone else seems to be getting. I am happy to have a car - but I shouldn't be down on the fact that I currently don't own THIS year's model, like everyone else seems to have. I am happy and grateful to have a job - but not to the point where I work 80 hours a week to get ahead when I have a family at home that needs me and loves me (Thank GOD).
In short, this- the poverty Jesus asks of me, the poverty I need to become familiar with as a Franciscan-is not physical destitution; it is treating the world and everything in it as GIFT, to be grateful for the material and immaterial blessings I possess (which are quite numerous) and should be generous with them wherever and whenever possible.
Thank you God for the gift of my fraternity for showing me the path under my feet once again.
Pax et Bonum,
Daily Mass Readings
Psalm 85:9, 11-14