The gospel reading for the feast of St. Martin: Luke 18:18-27A certain ruler asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good-except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'” “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with humans is possible with God.”
What does the goose represent?
Later this week (Wednesday), we observe the feast of St. Martin. I love the guy. He’s the patron saint of the first church in which I served, St. Martin’s in Providence, Rhode Island, a great place. When I arrived, I discovered that the symbol of St. Martin is a goose. There were renderings of geese and references to geese all over the place. It didn’t strike me as the most noble mascot, but I went with the symbolism, new priest and all. But why a goose?
Martin, a priest, was elected bishop and didn’t want to be a bishop. Perhaps a measure of his wisdom, but that’s another topic. (Bishops, what do you think?) Upon election, Martin hid from the folks who wanted him to take the job. He hid in a barn, seemingly a good idea, except the honking of the geese in aforementioned barn gave away his hiding place. Next thing you know, he’s wearing a mitre.
That story endears Martin to me. It’s one in a series of stories in the Bible and in our tradition in which people are called by God and wonder if the call is a wrong number. Who me? Why me? You’ve got the wrong person, O Holy One. I’ve felt that way from time to time. Have you?
More about Martin. A patron saint of France, he was born in 330 in what is now Hungary. His early years were spent in Italy. After service in the Roman army, he settled in Poitiers, whose bishop, Hilary, he admired. According to legend, while Martin was still a catechumen, he was approached by a poor man who asked for alms in the name of Christ. Martin, drawing his sword, cut off part of his military cloak and gave it to the beggar. On the following night, Jesus appeared to Martin, clothed in half a cloak, and said to him, “Martin, a simple catechumen, covered me with his garment.” As a legend, the story may or may not be true. But if it’s not true, it ought to be.
That story endears me to Martin further. It reminds me of the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25), in which Jesus commends those who help those in need, noting that such help is the way to meet Christ. It’s a principle reflected in the baptismal promises which call us to seek and serve Christ in all persons. All of them. And we all know that Christ can often come very well disguised. (Perhaps a good thing to recall in the wake of a particularly divisive election season.)
Martin, a rich young man, a person of means and influence, met and served Christ in this encounter. That’s why the gospel reading chosen for his day (see above) features a rich young man challenged to share what he had. The young man in the gospel chose a different path. He seems pretty clear that Jesus’ call is a wrong number. He goes away, sad. And it seems Jesus is sad too, according to accounts in other gospels. The young man’s refusal causes Jesus to offer the image of a camel going through the eye of a needle. It’s a tough passage for those attached to riches to enter the kingdom of God. It’s to let go. It’s tough for any of us who in terms of global poverty are wealthy. Is there hope for any of us?
Thanks be to God, the story doesn’t end there. Jesus says that with God, all things are possible. So with the help of this young man, and with the witness of St. Martin, let’s consider what is possible. That possibility will unfold as we take our cue from St. Martin this week. How are you being called? Do you wonder if that call is a wrong number? If there were a barn nearby, would you go hide there to escape the call? More specifically, where is God calling you to address the needs of our world, so evident in our considerable coincident crises? Who will you encounter, calling you to share what you have? How will you respond?
Take Martin’s witness to this possibility, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll meet Christ in the process.
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