Balik-Tanaw | The way of Christ

October 10, 2021
Twenty-eigth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ps 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17
Wis 7:7-11
Heb 4:12-13
Mk 10:17-30 or 10:17-27

The question of the rich man in the gospel of Mark – “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (10:17) -resonates with our desire to inherit eternal life (kingdom of God.) But what do we understand about this inner desire? What do we expect from the inheritance of eternal life? Though the rich man has everything he needs and observes the commandments religiously, he seems to be perturbed because he cannot give up and share what he possesses, which originally belongs to others.

Many are deeply concerned about their present and future situation with this pandemic. The incompetence of the Duterte administration in addressing the problems incurred by the advent of Covid-19 made us more vulnerable. I was shocked to learn that “the world’s 10 richest men have seen their combined wealth increased by half a trillion dollars since the pandemic began —more than enough to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine for everyone and to ensure no one is pushed into poverty by the pandemic. This has ushered in the worst job crisis in over 90 years with hundreds of millions of people now underemployed or out of work.” “As the virus spread, central banks injected $9T into economies worldwide, aiming to keep the world economy afloat. Much of that stimulus has gone into financial markets, and from there into the net worth of the ultra-rich.” Collectively, the 50 Filipino billionaires’ wealth totaled $45.6B (P2.2 trillionn), which is half of the Philippines’ 2021 national budget of P4.5 trillion. With this glaring gap, the words of social activist Bryan Stevenson, sums up the paradox, “The opposite of poverty is not wealth but justice.”

Jesus responded to the rich man: “One thing you lack. Go, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” This is a shocking call to discipleship—incredibly stunning in a culture that assumed that riches constituted an endorsement by God of the rich person’s life. This man has probably gone through his life believing that he has tried to please God and that his riches demonstrate that God is pleased with him. In most cases, Jesus called people by saying simply, “Come after me.” Nothing is recorded of Jesus requiring the fishermen to sell their boats, Simon and Andrew kept their house in Capernaum, Martha and Mary owned a house, Levi, the tax collector, was not told to give up his ill-gotten gains, and wealthy people became disciples without divesting themselves of their wealth.

Why then should Jesus demand such sacrifice from this man? There are at least two possibilities. First, this man’s wealth is very important to him than the Kingdom of God. The security afforded by material possessions tempts us to trust in possessions rather than in God. Remember the gospel of Matthew: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Mt 6,24). In the gospel today, “… how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The “eye of a needle” refers to the low gate in a city wall that would require a camel to be unloaded before proceeding on its knees through the opening. The love of accumulating wealth will not give you eternal life but chaos.

In the Old Testament, wealth and material goods are considered a sign of God’s favor. The words of Jesus in today’s gospel seem to contradict the Old Testament concept. Wealth, power, and merit generate false security. Salvation goes beyond human capability alone and depends on the goodness of God, who offers it as a gift. It is a gift and a responsibility. It will never come through without your active involvement in redeeming the world where we are. Our responsibility is to redeem the temporal order (structures and institutions) that it will regain its fidelity to its primary intention, that is, for the well-being of humanity, especially those who are vulnerable, marginalized, and our “common home,” the place where we live. Pope Francis reminds us that: “No one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society.”

Riches fulfill their service function to humanity when they are destined to produce benefits for others, society, and our common home. Wealth is a good that comes from God and is used by its owner and made to circulate so that even the needy may enjoy it. Evil is seen in the immoderate attachment to riches and the desire to hoard. Saint Gregory the Great says the rich man is only an administrator of what he possesses; giving what is required to the needy is a task to be performed with humility because the goods do not belong to the one who distributes them. He who retains riches only for himself is not innocent; giving to those in need means paying a debt.” While the Catholic church recognizes the right to private property, it is not an absolute right because it flows from what the church calls “the universal destination of goods.” The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. It is intended primarily to be shared and not to be accumulated. After all, “the original source of all that is good is the very act of God, who created both the earth and man and who gave the earth to man so that he might have dominion over it by his work and enjoy its fruits.” God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone. Abusing it by development aggression destroys the very gift of God. “In the capitalist system that emerged out of this, value is ascribed to accumulated capital rather than to work, now simply a vehicle for such accumulation. This system creates vast economic inequalities as well as political, social, and ethnic injustices […]. This system has been imposed worldwide and has created a culture of limitless private accumulation and consumption.”

What must be done? The Lord is challenging and reminding us today of the following truths: Whatever we have on earth are all gifts coming from God for the well-being of the human family, the society, the poor, and our common home. We are only administrators of the earth’s goods and not masters and owners who are hungry to subdue and devour its purpose for profit and domination. Each of us is given the responsibility to develop it, manage by distributing each benefit equally according to each need and make others accountable and denounce if someone abuses it. God has given us all the capabilities and possibilities to turn this world into a just and peaceful world so that the “fullness of life” will be realistically attained. For those who are tasked to harness the “temporal order” (governance), let’s make them accountable. For those who abuse and accumulate more wealth, let’s make them realize the evils they have been doing. If we desire to inherit eternal life, come and follow the way of Christ.

Balik-Tanaw is a group blog of Promotion of Church People’s Response. The Lectionary Gospel reflection is an invitation for meditation, contemplation, and action. As we nurture our faith by committing ourselves to journey with the people, we also wish to nourish the perspective coming from the point of view of hope and struggle of the people. It is our constant longing that even as crisis intensifies, the faithful will continue to strengthen their commitment to love God and our neighbor by being one with the people in their dreams and aspirations. The Title of the Lectionary Reflection would be Balik –Tanaw , isang PAGNINILAY . It is about looking back (balik) or revisiting the narratives and stories from the Biblical text and seeing ,reading, and reflecting on these with the current context (tanaw).

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