In the Lectionary

October 14, Ordinary 28B (Mark 10:17-31; Hebrews 4:12-16)

What if Jesus is talking about humility rather than possessions?

A young man throws himself at Jesus’ feet, asking for spiritual direction. He already does all the usual religious stuff, but he wants something more. So Jesus gives him a challenge: to sell all he has, give the money to the poor, then come, follow me. But this is not the kind of spiritual extreme sport that the young man was hoping for. Like so many Christians who have heard these words over the centuries, when the young man hears Jesus’ invitation, he walks away, shocked and dejected, because “he had many possessions.”

Nowadays, we have so many possessions that selling them off would be a full-time job, if we could even find buyers. Most of them are disposable or cheap. Folks would rather buy a new thing from Target than a used thing from someone else. More often, we fill garbage bags to rid ourselves of possessions, dropping them in the trash or at Goodwill (which then throws a lot of them away), perhaps while reading books or blogs about the joys of decluttering. So our landfills and oceans receive our clutter, weighing down soils, waters, and our fellow creatures with our former abundance. Disposing of our possessions is not as pure or effective a spiritual practice as it used to be.

But what if this passage is about humility, not possessions? Like the rich young man, I have hungered for spiritual rigor. Looking for a challenge, over the years I have selected and abandoned spiritual directors like so many Target throw pillows. None ever suggested I consider selling all my possessions, but maybe I wanted them to. I wanted to be told to work at something, like fasting or memorizing psalms. I wanted the word of God, living and active, as the letter to the Hebrews puts it, to pierce my life like a two-edged sword. Instead, usually I’ve been given a cup of tea and asked questions like: How are you? What is your image of God? What is your deepest desire?