Christianity is more than a self-improvement programme

By Monsignor John Devine

One argument for church schools is that they give children a 'good moral grounding'. This factor, coupled with impressive GCSE results, make them attractive to many parents who have no religious affiliation. Besides, who can argue with 'Love your neighbour as yourself'? It’s a handy principle for a happy life. But Christianity is more than a self-improvement programme. And this is exactly where the rich man in Mark’s Gospel reading for 11 October comes unstuck.

Let’s not be too hard on him. James and John, those closest to Jesus, also don’t get it. They expect a seat in the shadow cabinet (18 Oct). They assume Jesus is much too busy dealing with influential people to have time for unclean blind beggars (25 Oct) and cheeky children (4 Oct). Or is he? We take for granted that Jesus is reading from the same script as we are. He isn’t.

The rich man, like the rest of us, has to become a little child. His reserves of material and spiritual capital are worthless in the Kingdom that Jesus represents. "In that case who can be saved?" bleats Peter.

The children and the blind Bartimaeus have a head start on the road to the Kingdom. They already have nothing. We have to unlearn and offload in order to catch up with them: "Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant" (18 Oct). Even this, however, could be another self-improvement exercise, albeit played by different rules.

Our focus must be Christ himself. He not only leads the way but it is through his cross and resurrection that we are set free. We drink devoutly from the Lord’s cup at Mass. Do we realise the consequences?