“Go and sell whatever you have and come follow me”
There is a perception of Christianity by some people that to be a Christian means that there are a lot of rules to follow. There are a lot of things that you cannot do or should not do. There are many things that begin with “you shall not” or “you must not.” It can creep into our own thinking and understanding about what it means to be Christian or Catholic Christian. And it can become a real temptation that Christianity is defined by the things that we should not do and by keeping the rules.
There is something of that experience going on in Mark’s Gospel today in this conversation between ‘a man’ and Jesus. Who is this ‘man’? He has no name. Is Mark trying to tell us that he is all of us? He is every woman and every man who has stood before Jesus. He or she is you and me.
In answer to his question, Jesus replies: “you must not kill, you must not commit adultery; you must not steal; you must not bring false witness; you must not defraud; honour your father and your mother”. To all of these things, to all of these ‘you must nots’ our man can give a positive answer. I have done this. I have kept all these commandments.
And then comes the crunch. Actually to be a follower of Christ is not just about the ‘you must not’. They might be a good start and they may keep us in good stead but to really be a follower is to divest myself of all that possesses me and let Christ possess me. When I do that being a follower is about the opportunities that stand before me. They are not about what I cannot do or must not do instead, the question becomes, what can I do? what should I do? There is no prescription for the follower of Jesus as to what it means to love your neighbour as yourself or to forgive your neighbour seventy times seven. The follower, the disciple, is called to a life of creative opportunity to witness to the God who, according to the Book of Wisdom, brings understanding, and wisdom, who no priceless stone can compare, whose radiance never sleeps. The God who brings only good things to those who hand themselves over.
The Church in Australia is currently in the process of a Plenary Council. As we celebrate this Mass the first week of a long process of discernment and renewal has begun. I wonder if the Church in Australia is also called to let go of all that possesses it and look instead to what it could be and should be. For the Church, our dioceses and our parishes can also become so weighed down with the way things are, the way we must do things, that they can prevent us from seeing future possibilities, partnerships and ways of being disciples.
“I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation”. (Evangelii Gaudium 27)
Is this what Jesus was asking of the ‘man’ (of us) in Mark’s Gospel?
Could it be that we are being asked to divest ourselves of the way we possess the Church at the moment and open ourselves up to new possibilities, new horizons and new missionary endeavours?
Let’s pray together that over the coming year as the Plenary Council continues to unfold, that we might enter into the process of letting go in order to take up our lives in Christ.
Fr Brendan Reed