Fables and ancient legends often tell of heroines and heroes being seduced away from their great task or journey by some momentary lapse, when they suddenly turn from their task, loose focus and reach out for a seeming good that appears attractive but often contains within itself the seeds for disaster. Often this momentary lapse gives rise to great difficulties in pursuing one’s original dream, or leads to a fall or even to disaster.
It may be only a momentary lapse but it often has long term implications.
Perhaps it is in this sense that Jesus speaks about riches in today’s gospel.
Jesus stresses it is not easy to enter the Kingdom and riches can impede one’s entry into living within God’s reign (just as many other concerns can and do). As for that dramatic image of camels passing through the eye of a needle – well perhaps this image is meant to shock and puzzle the disciple, and leave him or her ‘wondering’. For it is often in this state, where one’s mind is open, searching for answers and cleared of predispositions – that the Spirit can prompt a deeper awareness and whisper an answer to us.
I am sure preachers within every Christian tradition agonise over this text, trying to reconcile wealth and riches with discipleship. I don’t intend to go into that debate here. I think it is sufficient to say that Jesus saw the need to reach out beyond one’s needs and desires in order to adopt the right disposition if one wished to strive for the Kingdom of God and thus enter into it.
But Peter also names another dynamic that often puzzles people too. He speaks of the ‘recognition’ or ‘reward’ that a good disciple might desire or expect. Although the disciple may set out with an open heart, generous and willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the Kingdom, he or she is only human. Thus the need for recognition, even reward can surface and at times hold one’s attention powerfully.
The danger at that moment, much like that of the great heroes in various myths, much like the pursuit of riches, is that the desire for recognition can lead one away from the mission. One begins to seek reward rather than the growth of the Kingdom.
Jesus speaks to this very feeling and longing. He affirms that it is true that if one is to live one’s marriage, relationships, single life or life as a religious or minster – for the sake of the kingdom – then this may mean the loss of many things in order to generously give one energy, love and service to others.
But Jesus does suggest too that so often in life generosity and self-sacrifice are returned to the one who gives. We have all experienced this I am sure – love begets love, generosity begets generosity and we find that what we give is so often returned in excess to us. Perhaps in different ways, perhaps not even in a manner that is obvious at the time, but we do receive. It may be in the form of thanks, it may be that we see someone else freed, it may be that we rejoice in the accomplishment and good ness of another enabled to be like this because of our efforts – whatever we can take great satisfaction in these moments. So often too we discover reward in another powerful way – when one steps out towards the other be it partner, child, friend, or stranger seeking to help them only to discover that we are the one being helped, inspired or carried by them or their example.
So a lesson for us today may well be that if we set out to make our lives a ‘continual service’ to those we love and to those who need us, then although it is not our goal or aim, we will receive back in return. Jesus saw this and experienced it himself, and he passes on his experience to us, that people respond to the good, that people are guided by and attracted to the light of kindness and compassion, and that when we love others unselfishly they will be inspired, enabled or moved to return such love. Love given freely may rebound to us, or it may radiate out and make the lives of still others better, but we will receive back gifts
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia. He currently serves on the General Council and is stationed in Rome.