by Fr. Patrick McNulty.
A reflection for September 14th, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Oh yeah, and I remember the H1 Mach III with a 498cc 2-stroke air-cooled transversely-mounted inline triple engine with a top speed of 119 mph and…
What in 39-worlds of sin are you talking about?
Kawasaki! You just said, "the 1960’s and Kawasaki." And the Kawasaki H1 Mach III was that famous Japanese motorcycle in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s. And you could get one for less than a thousand bucks.
Kawasaki? I said, Kazantzakis, my friend, not Kawasaki!
Well, maybe they were related.
The Kawasakis and this guy you’re talkin’ about.
You poor child! Nikos Kazantzakis was the illustrious and very prolific world-renowned Greek poet, philosopher, and novelist who died in 1957.
I was about to say that in one of his books, The Last Temptation of Christ, which many of us read in the ‘60’s, he imagines Christ while dying on the cross being severely tempted in ways rather objectionable to a Christian reader, and for which he, Kazantzakis became a persona non grata in many religious communities including his own Orthodox community in Greece.
But as I was thinking of the great feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a gospel fantasy of my own came back to me. And, I suspect my guardian angel put Kazantzakis on my mind to remind me to be very careful when "touching" a Gospel for any purpose but its own.
However, I find that my faith in Christ is often deepened when I imagine two different people who appear two different times in the Gospels to be one and the same person.
And so, when I think of the Cross and Calvary, I often think of both the famous rich young man who "went away sad" and the good thief next to Christ on the cross.
What? You think maybe they were related?
My goodness, you are listening! No, I’d rather imagine they could have been one and the same person. Wouldn’t it be an astonishing end to a magnificent journey of faith if the thief on the cross was the rich young man finally "converted?"
Sounds to me like you’re gittin’ a little too close to yer Greek buddy Nicky now, Reverend.
Well, let’s look at the gospel accounts together. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each mention the rich young man. But it is only in Mark that we hear the astounding comment about Jesus and the rich young man: that He looked on him with love.
And then, after the poor guy heard Jesus tell him to sell all he possessed and come follow me, what do all these Gospels say? In one form or other, as one translation says, sadness struck him, and he went away sorrowful. Catch that, "sadness struck him!" There’s no place else in the Gospels where we see such a scene as this. Here’s a man whose life is presented as having been utterly faithful to the Covenant: All the commandments I have observed from my youth… he said to Jesus, and Jesus agreed.
I don’t know about you, but I just can’t imagine that sadness struck him, and he went away sorrowful, is the end of it! Not for someone upon whom the Son of God looked with love.
It happened to other people in the Gospels that way. Why not him?
Maybe so, but that’s not the way it is for me, or for you, is it, and we’re all very "rich" in some way?
Doesn’t Jesus ask the same of us? Give it all up and follow Me? It’s different for each of us, but the same, too, and we often walk away.
Oh, if he came to me like he did for that there rich young feller, I’d do anything he asked of me, Reverend.
Oh? How about every Sunday when you hear the Gospel? Who do you think is talking to you then?
No, rich or poor, I think we’re all gonna end up on the cross of our own known and unknown sins, naked of any explanations or excuses.
And I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell (no pun intended) am not about to call it quits at that moment just because I may have missed my chance a few times on Sunday when Jesus "looked on me and loved me" and I walked away too.
In my journey of faith, the rich young man and the thief on the cross have become one.
Now, when I look upon the Cross, I hear Jesus telling me that faith is not a one-time conversion experience; I hear him telling me that on his Cross he exalted Life and that now Life lived all the way out by Faith in him is what’s its all about.
When I look upon the Cross, I imagine Christ saying to each and every one of us that anytime, anywhere, if we are "poor" enough, be we saints or sinners, whores or hermits, we can look at him and dare to say, Remember me, Lord, in your Kingdom and he will hear our cry!
So when I look at my life—these almost 82 years of it—I have no problem imagining that the rich young man’s life came apart after that encounter with Jesus.
Mine did. Didn’t yours? And I have no problem imagining that that rich young man went out and squandered all his wealth because he no longer "had the heart for it."
I did. Didn’t you?
And I have no problem imagining that he fell into the life of a sin for which he had to pay a price. I will. Won’t you? And so it’s not hard for me to at least fantasize for the sake of my own journey of faith, that the two might have been one and the same, because it’s not hard for me to imagine that everything which happened to both of them is happening to me.
But if I get stuck on the unfinished plight of the rich young man (in me) I would end up struck by sadness and going away sorrowful just like he did, and I would never have the nerve to say to Christ, Remember me, Lord, in your kingdom.
No, I think the two belong together in the Gospel because they belong together in our life.
I don’t know Reverend, I’ll hafta think about this one. Would it mean that this Nikos Kawasaki guy could go Paradise, too?
I think you need to sell your motorcycle and get both feet on the ground, my friend! It’s Kazantzakis! Do I think Nikos Kazantzakis will be in Paradise? I think Jesus looks on all of us with love, but we have to become as poor as a thief on a cross to hear Him say those other exalted words to us, "This day you will be with me in Paradise!"
But that’s why I imagine the rich young man and the good thief on the cross as one and the same—so that there’ll be hope for the likes of me and you and Mr. Kazantzakis and those who made the famous Mach III motorcycle.
PS, it’ll do 120 if you push it!
You sneaky old codger: you had one too didn’t ya?
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