Detachment and Christian Discipleship

In today’s reading from the Gospel, we heard that the man came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to follow the commandments and to give away his possessions, give to the poor, and then come and follow him. We want to resist the temptation to water down the sheer radicalness of Jesus’ call. We are tempted sometimes to let ourselves off the hook a bit. So it is good to sit in the moment with all of its awkwardness for a while.

“Jesus, what must we do to inherit eternal life?” “You know the commandments. Follow them.” “We do, Lord.” Then Jesus, looking us with love says, ‘Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’”

It is true, that the Church does not interpret today’s reading to mean that every disciple of Christ must become materially homeless. The Kingdom of God would not advance if every Christian suddenly decided to live in the street. But we shouldn’t imagine that means our call is any less demanding or that it will be any easier to respond to.

The details for how Christ calls each of us are unique, but what is the same in every case, is the need for us to become detached from those things that prevent us from entering into the Kingdom of God.

Remember, the fullness of the Kingdom is not yet fully revealed, but it has already begun. It is not a distant, future reality. Jesus begins his public ministry by proclaiming, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” So, the young man in the Gospel, he’s on the doorstep of the Kingdom. But he is still so attached to the world that he freezes on the doorstep, and ends up walking away.

The question for each of us, then, is what attachments do we have that are preventing us from crossing the threshold today? Once we have identified them, we should realize that detaching ourselves from them will probably not be very easy. It might even hurt. Like the second reading says, “The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow…” So, what are those attachments that are preventing us from enjoying a deeper communion with God? Let’s allow the Word of God to cut those things away.

Of course, there a many things that we can become attached to. For me, I have recognized an attachment to the desire of being liked. Selling out for Jesus has meant experiencing sort of a social, political homelessness. That has been hard because I am a people pleaser. I never want to say or do anything that will offend people. I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. I want people to like me.

At a certain point, you make a decision to go along with the crowd, to hold your tongue so that people will like you. Then, one day, you wake up and realize that you are the one! You have become the person who doesn’t like you. I’m not there yet, but I am trying to detach myself from the desire of being liked.

October is respect life month. The Church reminds us that a just society must learn to respect the sanctity of every human life from conception to natural death, and in every stage in between.

When we hear the Church’s language regarding human dignity, where do our minds go? Do we think about the unborn? The poor? The elderly? The immigrant? Is there any population that we exclude when we hear the Church’s language?

I know Catholics who don’t like it when I write about the dignity of the unborn because they think it gives validity to a certain political party. They send me angry letters. I know others who don’t like it when I write about the dignity of immigrants, for the same reason. They think it gives validity to the other party. They send me angry letters too.

Our country is so taken by fear that we don’t seem capable of seeing the dignity of every person. So, it’s no wonder that we fail to challenge ideologies that veil the dignity of those persons, when we don’t even think of them as persons.

But that’s the political world with its zero sum game, saying we have to choose one group over the other. The Catholic worldview prefers people over policies.

I will be honest with you. I don’t much like looking at pictures of the horrific reality of abortion. I don’t much like hearing the stories of immigrant families being torn apart, fleeing gang infested, war-torn countries. I don’t like looking at poor homeless people in the street.

All of these things remind me of how small, and weak I really am. If I had power, all of these problems would be solved. But I don’t have power. I am weak. And that is a heck of a thing to learn about yourself. I don’t like it very much. But that is precisely where discipleship begins. Every single day. Every morning. Anything else, and the day begins with a lie.

We are weak. We don’t know worldly power or have simple political solutions to all of these problems. What we do know is the dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God as revealed by the son of God. He showed us that every person, including every single person in this Church, including the unborn, the infirm, the homeless, the immigrant, the elderly, the prisoner and every person in every other possible state, is worth the sacrifice made at Golgotha. To Jesus, they are all worth dying for. Yet for some of us, they are not even worth challenging our own political party for.

The Christian worldview is a consistent worldview. If you hold it consistently, you will know what Jesus meant when he told the would-be disciple, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” If you hold it constantly, you just might find yourself politically homeless.

The Good news is that the world, influenced by Christianity has come a very long way over the last two thousand years. The fact that the weak and the marginalized are given consideration is amazing. Two thousand years ago, broad public discussions like the ones happening today would have been unheard of. So the Kingdom of God has advanced significantly since then.

My prayer is that, one day, by the power of God, through whom all things are possible, every one of us will enter into the fullness of the Kingdom, in all of its glory. When that day comes, it is likely that we will see those who we were supposed to be afraid of. And we will recognize that they were not problems to be solved, but that they have always been our sisters and our brothers. And there will be rejoicing on that day.

But today, the question remains for us; will we be builders of that Kingdom? Or, will we remain so attached to the world and all of its false promises that we find ourselves frozen on the doorstep?

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