28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel – Mark 10:17-30
Entrance to Church of Nativity, Bethlehem
If there is one thing I have learned from our trips to the Holy Land, it is this. Travel light! That is not as easy as it sounds. It means deciding between what you need and what you want to take, between what is necessary and what is optional! Most of you know exactly what I’m talking about. In some way, early in the pandemic when we were stuck at home, we did much the same thing at home - cleaning up and cleaning out. It was a constant process of deciding what do I want and what do I really need! Slowly and methodically, Ginger and I worked on every room in our house, top to bottom, even windows and curtains. That also meant cleaning out closets and drawers, packing up and getting rid of lots of ‘stuff’ that had been lying around un-used for years. You know what I mean – all those things we have been saving for a rainy day. And yet that rainy day never came!
But whether it’s spring cleaning or packing for a trip, I think most of us forget the other ‘stuff’, the stuff that’s lying around inside of us, all those slights and grudges that we insist on holding onto. We all have them! Whether they are relationships that have become toxic or moments when we felt hurt or abandoned or betrayed or forgotten, we hold onto them like they are some battle wound or badge of courage. For any other injury, we would head to the doctor for stitches and healing. Instead we deliberately keep the wound open and sore and decide that it’s the responsibility of the other person to heal it, not us.
And in the process, look at what it does to us. We grow cold and distant. We see the other person only in the light of that single hurt! We stunt our spiritual growth and choose to live in the past. We make ourselves out to be a great martyr for bearing the hurt. We hold onto it like it’s a prized possession. We refuse to let it go and move on. Our view and attitude toward that other person is ‘frozen’ in time and yet, in reality, we are the ones who are frozen – stuck in the past, stuck with anger and pain and hurt.
The rich young man in today’s Gospel is also stuck. He knows what he has to do to become a follower of Jesus. And yet he holds back, unable to fully commit! The Gospel tells of Jesus looking on this young man with love. All he has to do is let go and he can’t do it. For him, it’s his attachment to his riches, his physical possessions, all his stuff!
And then we get this wonderful image of the camel and the eye of the needle. Camels, at the time, were an ancient version of a cargo van; it was a pack animal people used to transport goods from one place to another. Rarely would it carry human passengers. And owning a camel meant you were wealthy. Many scholars today believe that the ‘eye’ referred to one of the ancient gates into Jerusalem. It was a narrow low gate and the only way for a camel to pass through it was to ‘travel light’, to remove all the cargo and merchandise it was carrying. All excess baggage had to be removed. Think of it – in order to enter the City of God, you had to set aside all the seemingly important stuff and enter as unburdened as possible!
We get a similar image from the entrance to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The only way in is a door 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide; you have to literally bow down in order to enter. You can see that door in today’s pic, that little dark square in the middle! That is why it is called the Door of Humility! Entering the House of God requires of us humility, setting aside pride and self-importance, leaving behind connections to the physical world that distract us from the Creator– wealth, possessions, social status!
If there is one thing the rich young man gets right, it’s the question he asks – What must I do to gain eternal life! That’s the question we should be asking ourselves today. What is the excess baggage in our lives that prevents us from moving forward? Is it a toxic relationship or maybe feelings of jealousy or anger? Or is it our attachment to the physical (money, fame, possessions) that prevents us from growing closer to God? We spend our entire lives packing our bags for our journey to the Kingdom. What do we really need to bring with us? What do we need to let go of?
Great Spirit, help me to live a good life, a life of peace and justice, of trust and honesty, of respect and honesty, of humility and a willingness to learn and grow in wisdom and grace.