Yesterday the rich man went away sad because he had many possessions. Why is it difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God? Because if we attach much value to our possessions, then it is difficult to let them go. Along with wealth comes the worry of maintaining one’s wealthy lifestyle. We get accustomed to convenience or to owning the latest gadgets. Another reason wealth interferes with our entry into the Kingdom is that when we are attached to our possessions, they come to define us. Our possessions show our social status. They prove to the world that we are somebody. Human respect based on what we have becomes very important to us. Who are we without our possessions? When we are stripped of our possessions, we come face to face with our true self, and with our poverty before God. If we know that we are precious in God’s eyes, unique and unrepeatable, then our possessions and others’ opinions of us will matter much less, if at all.
The disciples do not yet understand the way of Gospel poverty. They think that earthly riches are proof of God’s favor, that a rich man is already blessed by God, already on his way to Heaven. This is why they are “greatly astonished” by Jesus’ statement. If a rich man has a difficult time getting into Heaven, then what hope is there for the rest of us? “Who then can be saved?” In a sense, Jesus agrees that there is no hope. He tells them, “For men this is impossible.” The question of whether a person is financially rich or poor is actually irrelevant; that is not the criterion for entrance into Heaven. It is impossible for both the rich and the poor to gain entry by their own power. But it is not impossible for God! “For God all things are possible.” Eternal life is possible because it is a gift given by Jesus Christ and paid for by his Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
Peter begins to see that the steps they have already taken, the abandonment of everything in order to follow Jesus, may be a way out of the impossibility that has overwhelmed them. He wonders what he and his fellow Apostles can expect. Jesus gives a beautiful and encouraging reply: “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.” Those who are poor in the Lord are destined to inherit more than they ever left behind. Jesus’ Death on the Cross and his Resurrection have already won for us this most generous inheritance – if we are willing to give up everything and follow him.
In the first reading Gideon is not sure that following the Lord has been such a good idea. He and his family, and the whole of Israel, are at a very low point – poor, oppressed, dejected, feeling utterly abandoned by the Lord. So when an angel appears and greets him with, “the LORD is with you,” Gideon’s first reaction is to throw it right back at him: “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?” The angel is not put off; he issues a divine command: “Go with the strength you have and save Israel from the power of Midian.” This strikes Gideon as unreasonable and impossible, given his lowliness. In answer to his fears and questions, the angel assures him that the Lord will be with him. This is similar to what Jesus teaches Peter: for you it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.
When we feel that the Lord is calling us to do something impossible, one important question is, does this really come from the Lord? It may take some time of prayer and discernment, or some counsel from a wise friend, before we can be reasonably sure that God has revealed his will. But when we reach a point where we know God is asking us to do something, we can be sure that he will provide the means. For him, nothing is impossible. Our job is to respond with a generous heart, trusting in his grace and mercy, for the fulfillment of his will.
Today, the feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, gives us a wonderful confirmation of the very lesson found in these readings. We honor Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth, Queen of Angels and Men, not because she exalted herself but because this is the role God himself bestowed upon her. He was able to raise her to exalted dignity because of her radical poverty before him. In her own eyes, she is a lowly handmaid of the Lord. She does not place any obstacles in the way of his will. Like Peter, she had “given up everything” to follow the Lord. Like Gideon, she received a message from an angel. She too was well aware that she was lowly and insignificant, and that the task being presented to her was impossible and unreasonable. How can anyone become the mother of God? But unlike Gideon, Mary was not focused on herself, so she did not allow doubt or fear to interfere with God’s will. She tested the angel’s message, to verify whether it was truly from God, and when she heard him say that her barren relative Elizabeth was already six months pregnant – “for God all things are possible” – she gave herself entirely to his will. The will of God is that all of us be exalted in glory, to reign with him in the Kingdom of his Father. With Mary showing us the way and always interceding for us, we fulfill this divine plan when we humble ourselves and say, “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
When have I responded to God like Gideon as I experienced an extremely low point in life? What is my inner response to God when he asks me to do something I think is impossible? How can my fears and doubts interfere with God’s will for me?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.