Commentaries on Romans 12:1-2,9-17,21; Ps 130; Mark 10:23-30
The Gospel reading is from Mark’s version of the story of the rich man. After the man had gone away, unable to follow Jesus’ advice for him to share his wealth with the poor, Jesus turned to his disciples and told them how difficult it was for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. Here the Kingdom of God does not refer to heaven or the future life. To enter the Kingdom of God is to live one’s life here on earth in total conformity to God’s will. And the central part of following God’s will is to have a deep and compassionate love for all one’s brothers and sisters, especially for those in any kind of need, and to be willing to share all one’s gifts – spiritual and material – with them. And to be rich, in Jesus’ eyes, is to have a large amount of this world’s goods and to hold on to them while others do not have what they need to survive. Such a person cannot belong to God’s kingdom.
The disciples at first are shocked because, up to this, they (and doubtless the rich man also) believed that material wealth was a sign of God’s blessings. Poverty and sickness were a punishment for sin. Jesus would have none of that.
Then they realize they themselves had left everything to go with Jesus. What could they expect? Jesus told them all those who left everything for his sake and for the carrying out of his Gospel would be rewarded many times over. In other words, if they entered a world where everyone shared their resources generously with others, everybody would benefit. And this was the vision that Jesus came to give us. It is one that we have implemented rather poorly and put our focus on other things.
Aloysius Gonzaga came from one of the most prestigious and wealthy families in Italy. As the eldest son and heir, there was a whole range of privileges and honours waiting for him. He had the world at his feet. But it was not what he wanted. Against his family’s wishes, he put it all aside. He dreamed of being a missionary like St Francis Xavier and the other Jesuit missionaries he had read about. It was not to be. But he died serving in a plague-filled hospital and become a victim himself. In the eyes of the world, it was a piteous end to a life which promised dazzling wealth. But in the eyes of others, Aloysius is arguably the best known of all the Gonzagas, and several of them were famous though not for very edifying reasons.
In the First Reading from the Letter to the Romans, Paul urges the Christians of Rome to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”. Exactly what Aloysius did. Paul then goes on to list the qualities of such a person – loving others with mutual affection, anticipating each other in showing respect… contributing to the needs of community members (literally ‘the saints’)… blessing those who persecute you… emphathising with the feelings of others… no arrogance but mixing with simple people… All of these qualities shine out in the short life of Aloysius. Let them shine out in ours too.