Yesterday’s account of the rich young ruler didn’t quite end with his disappearance into the crowds, berating himself that he couldn’t take the ultimate step and follow Jesus. Like most events in Jesus’ ministry, the dialogue was transacted and continued in public, leaving the disciples (at least) with further thinking to do. “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (verse 31) demands quite a bit of head and heart work.
Rowan Williams remarks on the conspicuous stupidity of the disciples in Mark’s gospel: “They repeatedly miss the point; they repeatedly have to have things explained to them in words of one syllable” (see Meeting God in Mark, 2014). But are we any different? Helpfully Williams suggests that’s just the point! “If you feel stupid and at a loss when confronted with the words of Jesus and work of Jesus, don’t be surprised. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last”. Some of Jesus’ teaching is hard to process and even harder to enact.
The Book of Proverbs tells us that many things are better than wealth – honesty, kindness, integrity, peacefulness and wisdom to name but a few qualities. Stockpiling possessions, or amassing ISAs, or even accumulating friends may bring happiness, but do they help us to love God and our neighbour?
St Ignatius speaks about ‘Holy Indifference’ as an openness to the will of God, encompassing many aspects of life: health and sickness, riches and poverty, honour and dishonour, longevity and brevity of life. “Not to prefer honours over dishonours” (see Spiritual Exercises, 23, Principle and Foundation) has as its the goal, the capacity to lay aside those things that don’t help us in our living for God, while remaining engaged with those things that do. For the rich young ruler, money stood in the way; for each of us, it may be something else entirely.
God of glory,
the end of our searching,
help us to lay aside
all that prevents us from seeking your kingdom,
and to give all that we have
to gain the pearl beyond all price,
through our Saviour Jesus Christ.
[Collect for The Eleventh Sunday After Trinity, From 'Additional Collects', Church House Publishing, 2004]
31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’