The Scripture readings this weekend can lead to some very sobering reflection. In St Paul’s words from the second reading, “Nothing is concealed from Him, all lies bare and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must render an account”. Moving into the company of God is like running into a two-edged sword. In St Paul’s very graphic, almost grim imagery, a sword that leaves us open, split apart.
Similarly in the Gospel, we have a similar lesson. Christ is approached by a man who asks a very common, very human question. “What do I have to do to be saved?” There is no reason to assume that this questioner was anything but a good man. He addresses Christ in the same vein, ‘Good Teacher’, it is as though he assumes a common ground with Christ.
And then the two-edged sword is drawn. Christ focuses first on an area with which his questioner would be comfortable: external behaviour; keeping the rules: don’t kill people, don’t lie, don’t steal.
But it was a reassuring focus for the questioner. It was a costume in which he could clothe himself fairly confidently. “I have done all that, ever since I was a child”. And doubtless he had.
Then the heart of that exchange, a moment of genuinely divine revelation.
The questioner was about to find himself in the presence of someone who saw him as God sees him. To Christ the man’s weakness, his fear, his guilt were laid bare. And it just didn’t matter. Far from rejecting or scolding the man, the Gospel says that Christ looked at him with love and invited him to move in closer, to set aside the dearest of his costumes, that of a successful, wealthy man, with all the status and influence that carries with it.
But he couldn’t do it. So, he moved away, to where he could wear his masks and his costumes much more comfortably. He must have done so knowing that Christ was not going to chase him down. He never does. So, the Gospel says he moved away sadly, knowing that something important, something divine had just happened in his life, and he had missed it.
So, a complex, demanding passage. As complex and demanding as is the life of faith. The focus in this exchange is on a very particular costume, and a dear one in wealth, success, comfort. But exactly the same thing can be said about skill. It could be a long list. We are, after all, skilful costume makers. And if the image of a two-edged sword cutting away those costumes is a harsh one, it is well tempered in the Gospel. After all, it was when the mask was beginning to be lowered that Christ looked on his questioner with love.