One of the truths that will scandalise any one visiting or living in México is the reality of poverty. Poverty is everywhere. You cannot escape it. Consider that just about half of the Mexican population (Yes! Something like 48 % of the Mexican population!) lives in poverty. And, this is scandalous, not only because Mexico is a country rich in natural resources, but also because it is a Christian country… supposedly. The causes of poverty? There are many and they are all inter-related: 1. The colonial system still lives, where the concept of protecting and advancing the interests of the family reigns supreme. The rich families take care of their own, forming a class into themselves, controlling government and business. The others, the majority of Mexicans, receive the crumbs that fall from their tables. 2. The public education system is geared towards compliance, conformism and service in favor of the multinationals. Obviously, children of rich and powerful families study in private schools or abroad. 3. The presence of foreign multinationals that come to Mexico to literally conquer and exploit. Their presence favors the elite classes, including the government class, not the poor. Economic imperialism is very much alive here. It is thriving, at the cost of human lives! 4. For the poor, minimum wage salaries are a curse, but that’s all they have. 5. Poor people do not have access to good health and nutrition systems. Quality health care is expensive and so is good and nutritious food. 6. And, remember that the population is growing. Historically, poor Mexicans see “having children” as “future insurance,” since no help will come from nowhere else. Having a large family means that there will always be someone working to help the family, especially its unemployed and/or sick members, the older parents or grandparents. 7. Then, add to all of this corruption, violence and impunity, which have become endemic.
Another major cause of poverty, which is hardly discussed, has to do with the Roman Catholic Church, its very conservative theology and its political alliances with the rich and powerful. Historically, here in Mexico, as throughout Latin America, the Roman Church has always aligned itself with the traditional and powerful ruling classes. It was and it still is the Church of
the conquistadores… its theology has always praised poverty and frowned upon richness, all the while being a very rich, powerful and influential institution. It has always “assisted” the poor, making sure they survive, as to continue the “natural social order of things” in the Mexican social universe! It is, therefore, a very legalistic Church, where the liberating Word of God, comes second to demanding Code of Canon Law, where the rights of the institution are normally confused with the rights of God! For the Roman Church, as for the ruling classes, government included, the poor have no rights!
What does all of this have to do with the gospel lesson for this Sunday? Last Sunday, we read Mark 10:2-16 and we heard Jesus tell us that relationships are for the humanization of all human beings, especially relationships of intimacy. For the disciples of the Lord, all human beings were created equal by God and all human beings are called to relationships of freedom and equality, of justice and compassion, of life. This, of course, opposed to relationships of domination and control, of exploitation and oppression. This Sunday, we continue the same reading, as we read Mark 10:17-31, and Jesus continues to talk to us about relationships, but, now, with material things, with money and riches. Do we possess riches or do riches possess us? How free are we, as far as our relationships are concerned, to truly and radically follow the Lord? Are we free and generous dispensers of God’s riches or have we become possessed, controlled, by what we have, to the extent that we have lost our freedom and have become hard of heart, especially towards the poor and the humble, the afflicted and the marginalized?
Our text is about a meeting between Jesus and a rich man. The latter came running to Jesus (v.17). He is a good man, a man who has obeyed the Law, who has fulfilled all his personal and social duties as a good Jew. And, yet, something else is missing… This is the reason for his question: “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life.” (v.17) Right away we notice that, for this man, eternal life is a question of inheritance. Almost like a right, a recompense, a prize! It is a question of merits… not of gift!
Jesus answers him with love: “Jesus looked at him and loved him. One thing you lack, he said. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (vv.21-22) Love was
not returned! This man is not free. His heart has become cold and hardened, filled with sadness. Why? Because he is possessed by his great wealth. Yes. He obeys all the commandments of the Law. However, for Jesus, this is not enough. He must be free… free to love, free to be generous, free to follow the Lord and integrate into his life the project of the Good News of the Kingdom of God. This is what eternal life is about, true happiness… and, clearly, he is not ready. Jesus must have been very disappointed… he encountered a Law-abiding man, but with an impenetrable heart! It is not enough to obey the Law…
Jesus explained then to his disciples, as a conclusion, that “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.” (v.25) This was a popular saying that people would use to describe an impossible thing. In other words, eternal life, that is, true and lasting happiness, is impossible for those who have allowed themselves to be possessed by riches, and thus have lost their freedom and have become hard of heart. We must be extremely careful with the way we relate with material things… they may end up possessing us and we may end up going through life not knowing the freedom and the happiness of true and authentic love.
Three short reflections as a way of conclusion:
1. Everything is a gift from God. Our text reveals to us the logic of imperialistic religion (Christendom): you must merit eternal life, you must work for it and you work for it by being obedient to the Law. The religious person is, therefore, the obedient person. Eternal life is about obedience, about compliance. Nothing about freedom and justice. Nothing about compassion and love. Obedience! Obedience is the way… This is a very legalistic vision of religion in particular and life in general. And, we know the consequences of this type of religion, especially here in Mexico… However, for Jesus obedience is important only to the extent that it leads you to freedom and generosity, to justice and compassion, to love and life. Why? Because everything is a gift, everything is freely and generously given to be freely and generously shared with the poor and the humble, the afflicted and the marginalized. How do we experience this type of religion at Saint Luke’s?
2. Give to the poor and follow Jesus. For us, disciples of the Lord, our “eternal life” is not just a question of sharing with the poor. It is a question
of following Jesus, so much so that sharing with the poor (freedom) is a requirement to follow Jesus. We can only follow Jesus when we have become free to do so. We can only follow Jesus when we have become totally and radically generous of life and heart. We can only follow Jesus when we became aware that he looks at us with love and our hearts are able to respond with love as well. Otherwise, we are just obeying the Law… and, for the disciples of the Lord, it is not enough to just obey the Law. How is this type of spirituality part of our lives, here at Saint Luke’s?
3. All relationships are for humanization, for life and life in abundance. How important it is to keep this in mind and to constantly examine the way we are relating to other people, especially the poor and the humble, and to material things as well. If it is not about life for ALL human beings… then, somewhere along the line we are not being free and generous, not being just and compassionate, not loving… we are simply not following the Lord. How are we relating to each other at Saint Luke’s? How free and generous, just and compassionate, and loving, are we?
And, then, we become aware of poverty in Mexico… yes, we become aware of how far we are from following Jesus…
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