Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Rich Man Explained - By George!

Tonight Credo of the Catholic Laity (with the help of my friend and Theater of the Word chaplain Fr. Brian Harrison) brought in a fascinating speaker, Professor Robert P. George of Princeton, who gave a detailed talk on the challenges facing Catholics, Evangelicals, Eastern Orthodox, and other serious Christians - as well as devout Jews and Muslims - challenges brought about by the Obama administration's HHS Mandate.

Most of the night was what you might call "bad news", with George laying out patiently the choices that will be faced by people of faith if the Mandate becomes Law.  And the Mandate aside, George notes that we will soon be at a point when serious Christians and others will be seen as "bigoted" and not fit for trustworthy employment simply because we insist that marriage is "conjugal"; and likewise will be seen as "anti-woman" when we point out that abortion takes a human life.  Such a perception by the civil society will bring about loss of friends, careers, and worse.  "How can you be Catholic when your Church is so bigoted?" will be the inevitable question that is put to us in casual conversation.

"The time of the Comfortable Catholic is over," George notes.


But while he began with bad news, he ended on Good News - literally the "good news" of the Gospel.

Below is the story of the Rich Man who had Many Possessions from Mark, chapter 10.  I have inserted, in bold, Professor George's comments, his "exegesis", as best I remember them.  It was his encouragement to us in the dark days ahead.  And resounding encouragement it was.  I have heard few homilies as stirring as this.

For this is a parable for how we must proceed in the Dark Days ahead.  Again, George's comments are in bold - and they do indeed embolden!


17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?

Now this is a rich man coming to Jesus.  I picture him dressed in flowing robes, wearing a turban, with a train, a retinue of servants and followers.

18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

Jesus does not stop to get the Rich Man's reaction to this.  It is an odd thing to say.  Why does Jesus say it?  It has always seemed to me to be a hint by Jesus that acknowledges what must have been going on in the Rich Man's heart.  He is coming to see Jesus because he knows there's something there.  The good rabbi is more than just a man; at least more than just an ordinary man; and Jesus, in this odd little rebuke offered as an aside, acknowledges this - if I am good, and only God is good, than who do you say I am?  Jesus continues ... 

19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.

How many of us could look the Son of Man in the face and say that?  But evidently the Rich Man was neither lying nor boasting.  Evidently, he had kept the commandments from his youth.  And now I see him punching his fist in the air.  "I've got this!" he says to himself.  "The answer is 'keep the commandments'; I have kept the commandments.  I'm in!"

21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, 

Now Jesus is about to drop the bomb on this guy.  Why?  Because He loves him!  He looks at him and loves him!  And it is for this reason that He calls him further.  He calls him to be perfect - as we are all called, to Christian perfection.

and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.  [NOTE: Prof. George's comments have more to do with the version in Matthew, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."]
22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

Now we generally see this as applying only to rich men.  "Oh those guys like Mitt Romney!  Those guys like Bill Gates!  They'll never get into Heaven!  They're too attached to their riches."

But Jesus never says things that apply to only a segment of us.  He says things that apply to every single one of us.  This is not a story about the possessions of a Rich Man.  It's a story about all of us.  

If we cling on to the things we find precious* - whether those things be our careers, our standing in the community, our friends - we will turn away sad.  But if we take up our cross and follow Him, He will make us perfect.

*"My precious"
Thus we must be ready to make whatever sacrifices the coming troubles will entail.  We must never compromise our faith by cooperating with grave evil, even if it costs us our most precious material or immaterial possessions.  [See the Manhattan Declaration]

But how can we do this?  We can't!  It is against every part of our nature - to be perceived as bigots, to be shunned, to take risks.  We can't do it without the grace of God.  Which is precisely what Jesus says to His disciples, who as usual, don't quite get it.

23 And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
24 And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!
25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
26 And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?
27 And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

With God, nothing is impossible.  We need to value Him more than our great possessions that we hold so dear, turn to Him, ask Him for help, and He will strengthen us to do what He is calling us to do.


"The time of the Comfortable Catholic is over," which, if you think about it, could be the best thing that has ever happened to us.


Sharon Stegman said...


How right you are: it was a quite evening. All the seminarians there got a great lesson in homiletics!

Tom Leith said...

An audio recording of Professor George's lecture may be had by calling St. Joseph Radio at (636)447-6000. She's asking for $6.00 but if you send her ten it will help pay her rent carry on with an important (if grossly underutilized) service.