Greetings, SBT Readers!
In my neighborhood, Halloween is the big upcoming event. Witches, skeletons and ghouls adorn every house, along with flickering orange lights, giant pumpkins, ferocious black cats and sinister cobwebs. The stage is set in readiness for the hordes of Trick or Treaters who will be cavorting down our streets on October 31st. It has been several decades since I had to prepare for this night of Misrule as I have lived in a succession of apartment buildings that sheltered me from ringing doorbells. The dilemma for me now that I'm living in a townhouse again is how to serve environmentally-sound treats.
Apples? Think razor blades and poison. Donations to UNICEF? That works in a classroom but not with random Trick or Treaters who expect something at the door! Chocolates? Think palm oil, childhood obesity, unsustainably-harvested cocoa beans! Protein bars? Think nut allergies. Balloons? Toxic to small animals! School supplies? Boring. Dollar bills? Think fights and raids on "the bank"! Small toys? Well, they're hardly good for the environment as they're not biodegradable; however, this is what I've decided on -- small bouncing balls and an assortment of Halloween rubber duckies, all of which will end up in some landfill. Perhaps apple juice boxes could have been the answer, but I would only buy organic as apples are doused in pesticides. Or perhaps popcorn bags, but these tend to be full of salt, sugar and fat. At any rate, I have made my choice and it is the best I could come up with.
Perhaps I will be more enlightened next year, but for now the lesson is that none of us is 100% guilt free when it comes to preserving the planet. Of course, I could be a Scrooge and keep my lights off and doors closed, but I'm looking forward to dispensing a little joy on what is typically a dark and rainy night....
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up,
knelt down before him, and asked him,
"Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good?
No one is good but God alone.
You know the commandments: You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother."
He replied, saying,
"Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth."
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said,
"You are lacking one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
At that statement his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
What is the one thing that we lack? What are the possessions that get in the way of our spiritual evolution? The man in today's Gospel is caught between his desire to follow the "Good teacher" and his attachment to his possessions. His eagerness to follow Jesus is not only reflected in his choice of words but also in his actions. Mark tells us that he runs towards Jesus and then kneels before him; clearly, he recognizes Jesus' authority as a spiritual teacher, kneeling before him as a sign of reverence and submission. But while this man has led a virtuous life, discipleship requires one thing more -- and this is the stumbling block: he must sell his possessions, give to the poor and then return. We can imagine him staggering to his feet, completely crestfallen; the line, "he went away sad, for he had many possessions" suggests that this is where he and Jesus part company.
But what about us? What possessions keep us from following Jesus? I suspect that many of us are unaware of the "possessions" that hold us back; in fact, some of us assume we are active disciples and are completely oblivious to the pull of these "possessions." I use quotation marks because while it is wealth that blocks the would-be disciple in today's Gospel, "possessions" can take many forms -- money, technology, pets, collector's items, works of art, friendships, charitable causes, hobbies, careers, qualifications, goals, addictions of all kinds... In other words, anything that occupies our consciousness or dominates our lives can stand between us and the One we profess to follow. A simple test would be to ask ourselves, "What cannot I live without?" Whatever comes to mind might be the very thing that is holding us back, no matter how intrinsically "good" this thing happens to be.
The problem, of course, is not "the thing" but our attachment to it. If "the thing" possesses us (or our consciousness) then we are not free to run towards the Holy One let alone kneel; our allegiance lies elsewhere. According to Jesus, the foundational prayer of Judaism, the Shema (Dt 6:5), is the greatest of the commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Mt 22:37). When anything or anyone is a greater priority, then we can hardly profess to be his disciples.
What is called for, in fact, is the willingness to stand before God naked and poor, embracing the very poverty that the literal or symbolic "sale" of our possessions can help alleviate for others. The paradox is that it is in our poverty that we find our true wealth -- the presence of God: "Yet all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands" Wis.7:11