Oct. 14, 2012
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 7:7-11
Hebrews 4:12-13
Mark 10:17-30 or 10:17-27

This hardly sounds like the time for a Gospel message suggesting that poverty is a good thing. For the last several years, we have been surrounded by a faltering economy and even those who are not poor are inclined to think they are. But, then, we confront the sad reality of Portland's homeless, families without food, and children without shoes. This week's Gospel forces us to ponder the differences between indigence and the challenge to embrace Gospel poverty. Once when I was speaking about Gospel poverty someone asked me about the difference between Gospel poverty and indigence. I thought about that for a long time and then came to the conclusion that indigence is having so little that there is nothing to give to another.

When we hear this Gospel, we are inclined to focus on Jesus telling the young man to sell what he has. Let’s think about it in another way---“and give to the poor.”

Jesus was not suggesting that the young man should be indigent. Instead, he was challenging him to use his riches for others instead of accumulating them. The man’s good deeds had fallen short of care for the poor. The Gospel tells us “he had many possessions.”  It seems he was able “to have his cake and eat it too.” And so it is with many of us.

A Jesuit Provincial I knew asked his priest once each year: “What do you need that you do not have? What do you have that you do not need?”  Our wants quickly become our needs. Anyone contemplating a move discovers how much “stuff” he or she has accumulated.

Most of us find it easier to answer questions about what poverty should mean for others than what it should mean for us.  Gospel poverty is about what we ought to give to others rather than simply what we ourselves have. It should be a personal consideration for each of us.

The liturgies of these last Sundays of the year center on the themes of prophecy and ministry. When we place poverty into this context, the issue becomes one of service rather than deprivation. In the end, it becomes a willingness to spend ourselves for others rather than a consideration of whether or not we should spend dollars and cents. What we once deemed voluntary poverty might well be selfishness.

It is appropriate that the Epistle tells us that the word of God is a two-edged sword. Little wonder that the First Reading counsels prayer for understanding. The hundredfold of poverty is wealth of spirit. It is prudence and wisdom. It is the Word of God. Today, we rejoice in our ability to move beyond the Ten Commandments toward a life lived in the presence of Christ. We embrace Christian life with one another by following the Lord.

As we gather at the altar and consider our willingness to embrace Gospel poverty, we acknowledge that we must do more than give up our possessions. We must be willing to give ourselves for others. This is the most we have to give. It is what Jesus gives to us.