“What about us?” Says Peter on behalf of the disciples in the gospel. What about us? What do we get? We, like Peter, love rewards, it is, after all how we are brought up; good behaviour is rewarded, bad, punished. Or at least that’s the theory. But, as ever, with God our theories don’t quite apply. In the gospel the Rich Young Man already has Everything; he has money, he has manners, even more, he has the desire for the right thing, which is why he seeks out Jesus. But that’s when it all goes wrong, since it becomes clear that what he really values Is what he has already and he is unwilling or unable to make room for anything else, no matter how much he might want it. The disciples are shocked. Good manners, good looks (let’s assume he has them) and, above all, lots of dosh are the guarantees of a good end, of God’s favour. 2000 years on, it’s striking how far we (haven’t) travelled in our fundamental assumptions.
The Disciples, by contrast, have given up a lot: boats, nets, family, community, identity even, and in return they have heard Jesus, and seen his miracles and will have the privilege of not understanding him, and betraying, abandoning and denying him. Privilege? Yes, because that’s how they learn, how we learn, by getting things wrong. This past week we have been listening at mass to the tale of Jonah, who, if you remember, was commanded to go and preach the the people of the great city of Nineveh. Jonah runs away, but is unable to outrun God’s call, but the reason he runs is not because he is afraid of the Ninevites, he runs because he is afraid that they will listen to him and repent and that God will then forgive them. But they are the cruel enemies of Jonah and his people, he doesn’t want them forgiven, he wants them punished. Jonah has to endure a long process of teaching to realise that you cannot outrun God’s mercy.
That’s what the Disciples must learn and which the Rich Young Man can’t. He suspects he needs more, but is unwilling in the end to give up what he thinks is his security, his self protection. The Disciples still have along way to go, but have started on the road to discovering that mercy doesn’t come from what we already have, which makes it something we are owed, but from what we lack, which God always gives.