20th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)
Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, 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.”
A camel’s hair can pass through the eye of a needle, but not the rest of the beast. One must be free of attachments to fly through the eye, as Mary did at her Assumption.
Yet even a hair may be too thick. A bird tied down to the earth by a thread is no better than one tethered by a thick rope, according to St. John of the Cross (Ascent of Mount Carmel XI.4). Even a monk who has renounced property and riches can cling to a trifle like a knife, pencil, pin or pen, according to John Cassian, a fourth-century monk (Conferences I.VI). The size of an attachment is unimportant; what matters is purity of heart. A heart that is unattached, not only to material things but even to intangibles like ideas and opinions is truly free and untrammeled.
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
St. Paul summed up the path of salvation with one word: love. The invitation to the rich young man to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow Jesus would have availed him nothing without love: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (I Corinthians 13:3).
Love trumps poverty and even martyrdom. God, for whom all things are possible, is love. Attachments keep us from union with God as they build walls around the self and impede communion. A single resentment is a heavy camel. Only the grace and love of the Holy Spirit can burn the last thread that ties us down.
Then Peter said to him in reply, “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?”
Jesus, the Son of David and promised Messiah, was expected to establish political dominion on earth for Israel. Peter’s question arose from a centuries-old Semitic mindset that persisted even until the Ascension when the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
The imagery is thoroughly Semitic, complete with thrones and a perfect twelve to correspond to the twelve tribes of Israel. Twelve appears in Revelation several times as well: twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve tribes, twelve foundations of the city wall, and the twelve names of the twelve apostles (Revelation 21:12-14). The “woman clothed with the sun” wears a crown of twelve stars (Revelation 12:1). Twelve signified perfection and completion.
The long-suffering journey of the twelve tribes down the centuries, filled with wars and strife as well as prophecies and wonders, ended with Christ on the Cross. He is the gate to the Promised Land. His Ascension left no question that the dominion hoped for by Israel was “not of this world.” The kingdom imagery impressed upon the disciples was a hint of a transcendent reality in a “new world” or a “new age.”
The indivisible nature of theandric communion will render concerns about rank and privilege void. Any trace of “What’s in it for us?” in Peter’s question was counterbalanced by Jesus’ enigmatic words: “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” The very thought of privilege is a wedge between self and other, a division which has no reality in the Trinity. Jesus, though he was the Son of God, did not lord it over others.
“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.”
Jesus’ description of radical discipleship called for detachment from home and hearth—an alien concept for Hebrew culture. The Essenes (an ascetical Jewish sect) and St. John the Baptist came closest to the description by their voluntary poverty, celibacy and austerity. But for the majority of Jews, religious obedience held the promise of prosperity and material abundance (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). The story of Job concluded with the twofold restoration of home and hearth. Jesus’ hundredfold—an imperishable and eternal home and hearth—infinitely exceeds Job’s recompense.
Those who have responsibilities in a family and home can still heed the words of radical discipleship. Every time we empty ourselves of ego and possessiveness, we help the human family in Christ grow as his indivisible, theandric Body. This is our hundredfold which begins here and now. As we are one, no thought, word or action is inconsequential. Detaching with love from even a trifling pen or unnecessary word can move mountains and transform hearts. The borders of our home extend to the ends of the earth by the smallest kindness.