If any Scripture story keeps me up at night, it’s the story of the rich man in Mark 10:17-22. The rich man approaches Jesus asking what more he should do in order to be saved. The man is encouraged because he has always done his best to follow the commandments. Jesus responds that in addition to following the commandments the man should also sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor. The author of the Gospel doesn’t tell us if the man follows Jesus’s advice — we only learn that he went away sad.
From my youth, I have always followed the commandments — done my best to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and the example set by my parents and mentors. I am proud of this similarity with the rich man — I have always tried to live my faith. But my other comparison to the rich man is that I am a rich man. I have never had a lot in my life, but I’ve rarely wanted anything either. Compared to the situation of many of my neighbors and most people around the world, I have it pretty good. So when Jesus tells the rich man to give all of his possessions to the poor, the direction hits me hard. I feel the challenge.
Service: where mercy and evangelization meet
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was reassigned from the Office of Youth Ministry to lead the new Office of Evangelical Charity for the Archdiocese. The mission of the Office of Evangelical Charity is to ensure that everything the Church does is not only for spiritual renewal but that we are also being faithful to God’s call for social renewal. Further, we aim to transform every act of service into an opportunity to evangelize. This focus on service has introduced me to the countless staff, volunteers, ministries and organizations working to fight poverty and social injustice within our city. It has also forced me, especially during a public health crisis, to confront the profound reality of human suffering around us, often much closer than we would like to admit.
This confrontation with suffering has me thinking about the rich man even more. Unleash the Gospel calls us to be evangelical in every act of service because a true disciple does not pass up an opportunity to share the Gospel — regardless of how big or small the opportunity. This is at the heart of Jesus’ encounter with the rich man! The rich man knows the law and has encountered Jesus — and now he must give witness to both. Not only is his wealth an obstacle to his total reliance on God, but every possession he holds onto is a missed opportunity to show mercy, to share his encounter with Jesus with the poor.
This means that each of us needs to look at all that we have — our material treasures, abilities and spiritual gifts — and identify the opportunities to show mercy that we let pass by every day. I’ve found it helpful to reflect on the creative ways that I have witnessed others be merciful.
Mercy in our midst
During the pandemic, a mom with three sons who were all quarantined together regularly came to the Church of the Divine Child in Dearborn to move food boxes for the Catholic Charities Pantry Project — something they were uniquely suited to do because their family was large. Another man with a pickup truck regularly came to shuttle food packages from Divine Child to St. Anne’s Basilica because their pantry staff couldn’t make it out to us — again, something uniquely suited to him as the owner of a truck.
One young man, thankful to have been employed in an important business through the pandemic, regularly went from store to store, personally buying the food staples we could not otherwise get for the food kits. He knew that having an income in a time of significant unemployment was providing him a unique opportunity to be merciful!
For myself, the owner of a three-bedroom house, I have been able to show mercy to a future seminarian who needed a place to stay in the months between the end of a lease and the beginning of seminary. I’ve also been able to show mercy to a student trying to pay his way through college and start out on his own.
What opportunities do you have to show mercy? Like the rich man, Jesus is calling you, his joyful missionary disciple, to put everything you have in service to spreading the Gospel.
Where to begin
Overwhelmed? Don’t be. Start with prayer and discernment. Ask Jesus to open your eyes to these opportunities and trust that he will. Then, when presented with the chance, be merciful. Your chance could come in the form of a person in need on your doorstep, a request from your parish to help with a service project, an unexpected surplus in your budget, a newspaper article about a local problem that you can’t stop thinking about or even the “still small voice” of the Lord telling you where he wants you to go. It will look different for each of us, but if our desire to show mercy is sincere, it will come tangibly and unmistakably.
It would be very easy to end this reflection here — admonishing you to do acts of mercy. But Unleash the Gospel calls us to go deeper. It’s one thing to be merciful by showing charity to a neighbor — it’s another thing to be evangelically charitable to your neighbor. The simplest way to make sure our charity is not mistaken for humanist philanthropy is to speak the name of Jesus boldly. Evangelism means sharing, by action and testimony, our encounter with Jesus and the meaning it has given our lives! St. Paul says always to be ready to give witness to the hope that is in you. Don’t just be prepared — share it!
For myself, God has been incredibly good to me. Not only have I wanted for little, but the presence of God has helped me through many things — most recently, the loss of my father to cancer, my decision to seek treatment for an eating disorder and a dramatic career change amidst a global pandemic. Through it all, God has guided me, sustained me and protected me. My only response can be to heed his commandment, to give everything I have — everything — to the poorest of my neighbors in the hopes that they too will know of God’s kindness and mercy.
As we move into an uncertain future, let us not walk away sad like the rich man, but boldly step out, and with renewed energy and vigor, seize every opportunity to show mercy, and boldly share the testimonies of our encounter with Jesus Christ.