Sunday, January 27, 2019

What owns us?

Dear Friends,

I have a list of people to look for and talk with after I cross over into eternal life. Among them is the rich young man who comes to Jesus in all earnestness and asks what he must do to enter eternal life. Jesus tells him to obey the commandments. “All these I have kept from my youth” the rich young man replied. Jesus looked on him with love, assessed the man to his core and told him “One more thing you must do”, namely sell what you have, give to the poor and follow him. The man went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (Mt.19-22, Mk. 10.17-31, Lk.18.18-30) How did this man live the rest of his life? Did the rich young man ever regret his decision to walk away from “the more “ that Jesus asked of him?

Many of us approach Jesus as the rich young man did. We gladly embrace the Jesus who comforts and affirms us. The question is: What owns us?  Are we what we have: accumulated goods, riches, a measure of power, a lauded position, a title, children, a  record  of real moral and spiritual seriousness? What do we desire more of and fear having less of? What do we stake our life on?

It’s true that in our daily lives we attend to the commitments that engage us and that we use things in the process. Having things is not the issue. The real problem is attachment to things. The wealth and prosperity we have, whatever forms they take, should enable the journey of life rather than become more important than the journey itself.  What matters is that we detach ourselves from the overwhelming sense of needing to cling to whatever we treasure. Meister Eckhart writes: “There, where clinging to things ends, is where God begins to be.”

There’s a vast chasm between the faithful performance of moral and religious duties of the commandments and the real surrender of ourselves that arises from trust in God. We are bound, for example, to do no violence to our neighbor, but we have a choice whether to bind one another’s wounds. The call is to go beyond the necessary to the generous and whole-hearted.

“One thing more you must do” varies from person to person. Your one thing to surrender to God is not necessarily mine. We have to know ourselves reasonably well, have a sense what God is calling us to let go of, and make our choice generously. One choice leaves out other choices, so we have to pray with openness to God to know our own particular path of detachment from things.

In these cold, dark winter days, when we sit with our computers and scout Amazon for new toys, it’s easy to feather oneself with one more thing. Instead, let’s find ways to support others in their growth toward wholeness of life. Become what we hope the world will be.

A few verses after he encounters the rich young man in each of Synoptic Gospel accounts, Jesus tells his followers: “All things are possible with God.” We may have even quoted this encouragement to others in tough moments. Let’s invite each other to apply it to ourselves as we ask “What more should I do…?”