A Homily for Holy Communion on Monday , 27th of May, 2013, 9 a.m.
for the Sisters of the Love of God Fairacres Priory, Oxford
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.” ’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
In Your Own Time
+ May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Spiritual writers and composers of prayers and hymns are very keen on the idea of the “love of God”, yet we don’t read in the Gospels a great deal about Jesus loving people in particular. He does nice things for them – heals them, throws out unwanted demons, gives them good advice, and so on, but the love is inferred. We assume he must at least have liked them a bit to take the time to bother with their little concerns, when he was busy being the Eternal Logos, Second Person of the Divine Trinity, and all-round Redeemer of the Cosmos. We’re impressed, flattered even, when the great and the good, the famous, the powerful, and the rich, pay attention to us, the little people, in the midst of their hectic schedules – surely they must like us a little? And so, surely, it must have been with Jesus. But paying attention isn’t the same thing as loving. It would be odd not to pay attention to someone we love (at least now and again), but we can be attentive for wages, or self-interest, or to prove a point, or just through force of habit, as when tending small children and other animals with tendencies towards danger.
The Gospel reading today isn’t about that sort of functional paying-attention. It starts off that way. The rich man wants to know how to be good, and Jesus perhaps finds the question rather tiresome and tells him in effect that he knows very well how to be good, all he needs to do is get on with it. And then the chap says he’s done all that, and clearly it isn’t enough. That makes Jesus stop and pay attention. Saint Mark tells us that “he looked steadily at him, and loved him” before giving his suggestion. He “loved him”. It sounds and reads oddly. But isn’t that precisely what we must start to do if we are truly to pay attention to one another? To love one another? This story is often told in terms of the rich man being caught by surprise when given an impossible task by Jesus – and he goes away sad, because to give away all his wealth would be a very hard thing to do. But the fascinating thing is that Jesus prescribes this particular treatment for this particular patient. This isn’t a teaching for everyone, it is for this one person. Jesus looks, and he loves, and he suggests what the Way might be. We assume that the rich man went away because he couldn’t do what Jesus suggested. But the story doesn’t say that. It says he went away. It does not say that he never came back. Maybe, in his own time, in his own way, he did sell all he had, and he did come back, and follow Jesus. Haven’t we all taken our time to work things out in our own hearts before taking the plunge? Maybe he did come back. Because, Jesus loved him, and everything is possible for love. Amen.