‘Go and sell everything that you own .
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
WHEN my uncle Gerald was a little lad of about seven or eight, he was dead
keen on marbles. He loved playing marbles in the street. He and his pals would
take their marbles out and roll them along the pavement — more interesting than
on grass — or indoors, because of the unexpected obstacles.
And one day, the obstacles included a rather large puddle. It was right in
the way, and he didn’t want to roll his marbles through the water; so what did
he do? He took his trousers off and used them to mop up the puddle so he could
play through. Obvious!
It wasn’t all that obvious to his mother, but then she was a rather
conventional woman who thought clean pants were more important than a game of
marbles. It’s all a question of priorities, really.
I remembered that episode when I first heard the story of Francis. He was a
young man who realised that his family’s wealth had been accumulated by his
father’s business deals. His father was a merchant who traded in cloth. But to
manufacture those brilliant cloths, many poor people were paid a pittance and
were contaminated by the chemicals and the dyes.
Francis decided he didn’t want to inherit wealth that came from such a
trade. He decided he’d work for the poor, and, when his father objected,
Francis took off all his rich clothes and stood there naked just as God made
him. He quit the family home in Assisi and went off to live a life of complete
poverty, loving God and serving the poor. It’s all a question of priorities.
The problem with fine clothes is that they get to matter too much; they get
in the way of the person underneath. My uncle Gerald decided that mopping up a
puddle was more important than looking smart. Francis of Assisi decided that
fine clothes were an abuse of the poor.
We become so intent on designer labels, special T-shirts, special trainers
that we forget other values. Do we really need so many clothes? Do they have to
cost so much? We can all laugh when we read about Imelda Marcos and her
cupboards full of thousands of shoes — bizarre! But don’t we have more than we
need? We can all gasp at the amount of money Princess Diana spent on her
dresses, and then remember that, after using them to strengthen her public
image, she sold them to raise money for her charities. Would we be able to part
with our possessions like that?
The rich young man in the Gospel (Matthew 19.16-22) was a decent young
fellow. He did a lot of good; he wasn’t a tear-away. And he vaguely thought
he’d like to use his life for good causes. But to do that properly, he had to
give up the high life, and he couldn’t bring himself to give up his
possessions. He went away sad because he realised that the fulfilment he longed
for could only be his if he wasn’t tied to his possessions. His possessions
There’s nothing wrong in owning things, until they own us and control our
lives. When we become obsessed with what we want to own, we are prisoners of
our possessions. We get to the point when we value clothes, fashion, cars,
mountain bikes, foreign trips, stereos more than we value people. And at that
point we cease to be Christians.
People matter. Possessions don’t matter clothes don’t matter. That’s the
whole point about possessions. If we use them for the benefit of others,
there’s no harm in them. But when we begin to think more about our clothes, our
cars, than we think about people, we’re lost.
The young man in the Gospel couldn’t bear the thought of losing his wealth,
and went off to a sad and lonely life, rich in possessions, but impoverished in
St Francis gave up every single thing he had and found fulfilment in loving
everyone as his brothers and sisters. It’s all a matter of priorities.
This is an extract taken from The Lord Be With You by Cormac
Rigby, published by Family Publications, Oxford (phone 0845 0500 879; £6.95,
1-871217-42-3; cased £10.95, 1-871217-43-1; audiobook £7.95).