I met a man who obtained a small gold snuff box in Italy. He was proud of it and liked to display it in his living room. He had a habit of checking, every time he entered or left the room, whether the box was still there. Perhaps a visitor, or a relative, had pocketed it.
Someone came to Jesus and said, ‘I’m doing well. I have ticked all the boxes.’ Jesus looked hard at them with love, and said, ‘yes, but you are missing one thing. Go and sell everything and give the money to those in need, and then come and follow me’. But the person couldn’t take it, and left.
‘Everything’ has multiple meanings. It can literally mean wealth and possessions and there are people who have left these to follow Jesus. But it also means an attitude which seeks security in possessions, qualifications, status and a general sense of who a person is. We have a hard time learning what Jesus mean by his opening words in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’.
Ruth Burrows, now well into her nineties and frail, often wrote in her books how we keep ‘a deadly hold’ on ourselves. We find it hard to ‘dance on the shore’ like Zorba the Greek, when our plans, literally in his case, come tumbling down.
‘Letting go’ is difficult. We hold on to so much because we feel, if we get rid of it, it will leave such a hole in our life that we can’t go on. ‘Emptying self’ is all very well in the scriptures (Phil 2:7) but let it stay there. Don’t get too close to it. It is a fire that will burn. But it will also simplify, purify, as we see in St Francis whose feast fell this week. It will open spaces. Taking a deep breath and swallowing hurts and slights, frees us to welcome the bigger picture. ‘Selling everything and giving to the poor,’ has a literal and a much wider meaning.
The Church herself has spent decades, maybe centuries, defending her image of herself. Now that has all come tumbling down. News that the French Catholic Church has released the results of her examination of conscience, documenting case after case of abuse, mainly of boys in their early teens, adds to the horror and sadness that has hit us from so many sides. But we can also sense the relief that, at last, the truth is out. Now we can deal with the issues. We are free of pretence. Free to build something new, something closer to the original, the source. Losing our life we can begin to find it. Both collectively and individually.
10 October 2021 Sunday 28B Wisdom 7:7-11 Hebrews 4:12-13 Mark 10:17-30