Fr. Roger J. Landry
Catholic Online Homily Series for the Year of Faith
May 28, 2013
“We have given up everything and followed you.”
St. Peter said those words after the moving episode of the Rich Young Man’s tragic choice to greedily hold onto his possessions instead of grasping on to Jesus.
The apostles had done the opposite.
Peter had given up his fishing business and the biggest catch of his life to follow Jesus. Matthew had left his hefty tax collection on the table to follow him.
Jesus had said that the kingdom of God was like a pearl of great price, or a treasure buried in a field, worth selling everything else one has to obtain. The apostles had taken that gamble of faith and paid that total price, not only leaving behind material possessions but also their families, villages, friends and so much more.
But after Jesus’ words that it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for someone rich in possessions to enter his kingdom, Peter was clearly wondering whether anyone would be able to fit through such a tiny door. He was wondering whether all those sacrifices would in the end be a wise wager or a foolish bet.
Jesus took advantage of Peter’s concern to remind him, the other apostles, and all of us until the end of time that we can never out-give God.
In the first reading, Sirach reminds us that the sacrifices we make for God “will never be forgotten” because “the Lord is one who always repays and he will give back to you sevenfold.”
In the Gospel, Jesus says that not even that rate of return is enough for God.
He swears and oath and declares, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age.”
Not sevenfold, Jesus emphasizes, but one-hundred fold. Jesus promises a life full of “houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands.”
As we see in the life of the apostles, the way they received those gifts in abundance was not according to the materialism that might have grasped the Rich Young Man’s attention.
The apostles didn’t become the biggest landowners in ancient Palestine. Their biological families didn’t explode with hundreds of siblings. Their mothers didn’t need to worry about competition from 99 other madres.
Jesus was speaking in a true, but spiritual, sense.
They now were the recipients of a hospitality that far exceeded the normal welcoming of Middle Eastern customs, staying with believers all across their journeys, where mothers cared for them with all the affection that the best mothers would show to their most beloved offspring.
Through baptism and the blood of Christ, they formed bonds with thousands of spiritual siblings deeper than any biological blood or genes could effectuate.
Through their mission, they recognized in a far different way than ever before that the whole world was the Lord’s and he had made them stewards.
But not even that was enough. Jesus went onto promise two other things.
One was “eternal life,” where they would inhabit a new heavens and a new earth, where a mansion had been prepared for them, where they would be surrounded by far more than 144,000 spiritual siblings.
The other was “persecutions.”
We have to admit that that seems a strange inclusion in a litany of blessings. But persecutions can be among the greatest of blessings, as they allow us not only to grow in faith but to advance on the path of 100-fold in this world and an eternal pension plan that no actuary would ever dare draw up.
There’s a reason why we bless ourselves and others with the sign of the Cross, because we recognize that the Cross is a blessing that brings to us all Christ gained for us on the Cross and allows us to die to ourselves on our own daily Crosses so that we might never make the choice the Rich Young Man did.
“Blessed are you,” Jesus said in the culmination of the Beatitudes, “when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.” Those persecutions are what leads to the promise, “Your reward in heaven will be great.”
In this Year of Faith, it’s important for us to examine whether we trust Jesus enough to believe in and act on his words.
Today he is calling us, like he called Peter and the apostles, to a radical trust. He’s asking us to believe that if we detach ourselves from all our possessions, if we use all he gave us for the poor, if we put him above our families and follow him along the Way of the Cross, then we will receive so much more than we sacrifice in this world and in the next.
Are we prepared to make that gamble in faith, trusting in his assurance?
There are many good people, including virtuous Christians, who like the Rich Young Man, and unlike the apostles, are unwilling to stake their entire life on their faith in Jesus’ words. They’ll keep the commandments. They’ll give something, or even contribute generously, to the building up of the kingdom. But they’re not willing, as Peter said, to give up everything to follow the Lord.
Likewise, many of those who at least outwardly have given up nearly everything — those who live by the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience — sometimes have done so only partially, still seeking security in community possessions, or in illicit relationships, or in their control of their own lives and destiny.
The Lord is calling us all to more. In order to receive everything he suffered, died, rose and ascended to give us, however, we need first to empty ourselves out. That’s what the Apostles grasped and the Rich Young Man didn’t.
“Many that are first will be last,” Jesus concludes the passage today, “and the last will be first.” This is one of Jesus’ favorite paradoxes about the kingdom, about how what seems fair and just in the logic of the world is totally overturned in the mind of God.
One of the many ways that this is true is that those “last” in coming to faith are often “first” in taking the Lord seriously and giving all. Recent converts are often those who immediately think about going “all in” to the life of the faith and giving up families, lands, and houses to serve God and others as priests, consecrated and religious, whereas those who have been raised in the faith for decades often water down their commitments.
Converts are the ones who with great zeal try to turn their families around, who begin to tithe, who begin to behave in a way somewhat commensurate with the tremendous graces they have received. Sirach says today, “Give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously.”
As we sing in the last verse of the great hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Were the whole realm of nature mind, it was an off’ring far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.”
That’s what the Rich Young Man never grasped. It’s what the apostles did. Now it’s our turn to choose.