Twenty Eighth Sunday of the Year October 11, 2009

Wisdom 7:7-11; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30

Every person has a desire to do something great and something important in his or her life. They have the goal set for themselves and want by all means to achieve it.  The young man in today’s Gospel wanted eternal life.  But he was much attached to his material possessions. He knew the commandments well and followed them faithfully and lived a good life. But he was not at all willing to sacrifice his possessions and make eternal life his primary goal. Jesus makes a figurative statement of the camel and eye of the needle an imagery to indicate how difficult it is to a person who is attached to riches to enter into heaven.  This imagery may have meant the small city gate where even the large animal like a camel will have to struggle. Yet he indicates that all attachments are destructive. This would have shocked the disciples as they knew from the Old Testament that riches are a blessing and poverty is the curse. What Jesus says is that it is important to put ones trust in God and not in material possessions and he must give up his dependence on these things. Jesus demands a lot from his followers. In fact he demands everything. If we wish to follow Jesus fully he must be the centre of our lives. He will be of greater importance to us than family, career, or other noble ideals. Jesus today calls each one of us to examine our lives and let go anything that is more important to us than he is. His invitation will follow us all the while and he will demand a response from us.

Today’s readings are a challenge to our human complacency. From the religious point of view wealth is something that draws us away from God and buries us in the earthly things.  Only the divine presence and his word can make us persons ready to receive the heavenly life. Today’s First Reading spoke of the wealth that is found in wisdom. Something to be esteemed more than “scepters and thrones…compared with her, all gold is a pinch of sand, and beside her silver ranks as mud”. She is more valuable than health, beauty and even the light because “in her company all good things came to me…riches not to be numbered”. For what can be valued more than what brings me love, security, freedom and happiness? Her unending radiance guides us towards the Lord Jesus who is the way, and the truth, and the life.  Wisdom guides us towards God, the Church and Sacraments that justify us and bless us with the gift of salvation. Without wisdom, we are spiritually blind. In spiritual blindness, we become as lost sheep who walk aimlessly, waiting for the wolves to devour them.

And the words of the Second Reading, too, find a perfect illustration in this Gospel scene. “The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finally: it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow.” The text is an argument for why we should be so diligent to enter God’s rest by hearing and believing God’s word.  To enter this great and joyful rest we must trust God. “We who have believed enter that rest.” So the utterly indispensable means of getting to heaven is believing God and trusting him. The words “living and active” perhaps correspond to any of these other pairs: spirit-soul, joints-marrow, thoughts-intentions.  One of the functions of the word of God when it comes into us is that it penetrates very deep — like a sword through tough, hard layers — and makes judgments about what’s there. The way to enter that rest is faith, or belief, or trust in God’s promises. The great danger in these chapters is not just bad thoughts. The great danger is unbelieving thoughts. This Gospel story, like many others, cuts through all our conventional ways of thinking and drives us to reflect on the things that really matter and where real wealth and blessings lie.  To be totally a disciple of Jesus is not to give up something valuable; on the contrary it is to find the secret of real happiness and wealth. The man in the Gospel story never did discover that happiness and he lost it by walking away. He was a man who was obviously attracted to Jesus and wanted to follow him but could not deprive himself of wealth.

In the passage we heard from the Gospel of Mark indicates the vision Jesus is unfolding to his disciples and shows his Way that will ultimately lead to the salvation. Significantly, we are told at the beginning that Jesus was “setting out on a journey”, literally, that he was setting out on the road or the way. This way is leading Jesus to Jerusalem, to his suffering, death, resurrection and it is the way  his followers are expected to follow. Jesus himself is the Way, the truth and life and to be with him is to be on the Way to life. At this juncture Jesus encounters the rich young man. Mathew calls him young and Luke says he is a ruler. This person has one aim in life to inherit the eternal life.  By the very encounter we come to know him as a morally good person. For him, religion and therefore holiness consisted in being a morally good person in the eyes of God. He openly tells Jesus that he kept all the commandments and has lived a good and in our terms a religious life. He had not harmed any one and had observed what the law expected him to do. But  all the emphasis was on himself and his own individual perfection and never went beyond that norm.

There is some amount of ambiguity in the request of the young man to Jesus.   He wanted to know the means to obtain eternal life but was unaware of the entry into the Kingdom of God, or the need to obtain the means to be saved.  When Jesus said, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” Our Lord was certainly referring to the Kingdom of God. When the disciples asked him, “Then who can be saved?” they were certainly referring to salvation as Jesus had taught them. In the Divine Plan of Salvation, it is important for us to know the difference between obtaining the gift of eternal life versus the gift of salvation. Surely, eternal life alone is not what the man was asking Jesus. Having improperly expressed himself as we frequently do, he asked the wrong question but got the right answer. For Jesus knows the hearts of all and He knew what the man was asking, how to inherit the Kingdom of God, such embracing salvation.

Mark tells us that Jesus looked at the man “with love”, a love that reaches out in concern for the deepest well being of the other. It is the kind of love that the Gospel asks us to extend to every single person as Jesus had expressed at the Last Supper in his Final Discourse, indicating a personal, life sharing and life giving love.  This is the love he showed from the cross as he tells his friends “love one another as I have loved you”. And it was this love for the man that leads to the challenge Jesus is going to make. This rich young man was good; Jesus wanted him to be even better. So he tells him what he has to do for his perfection: “There is one thing lacking. Sell all you have and give to the poor, and then you will have real treasure. After that, come and be with me.” It was an unconditional sacrifice he is called upon to make to be with Jesus.  In fact, it had never occurred to him that his wealth was anything but a sign of God’s blessing. He walked slowly and sadly away totally dejected person.

The teaching of Jesus about the hardship to enter heaven would have shocked his disciples. It was indeed totally contrary to their own beliefs for they had understood that material wealth and prosperity were signs of God’s blessings. The young man was the recipient of such blessings as men of old in the Old Testament.  But Jesus gives his new teaching: attachment to wealth and Kingdom of God cannot go together. He gives the example of camel and needle’s eye or the narrow side gate in the city wall. The camel indeed found it hard to enter through it. Yet he tells the disciples that the salvation is in the hands of God and indeed he will save those he has called and chosen. He will show his concern towards each one of them.

We have Peter who on behalf of the disciples shows the sacrifice each had made. Their sacrifice they had made was small and simple and yet Jesus promises them multiple reward, a new heaven and new earth, building a new community of love. Let us also ask our heavenly Father in the Name of Jesus for the permanent indwelling gift of wisdom so we may never deter from our blessed hope. May the grace of God richly shine on each and every one of us to come forward personally to make this spiritual request. We ask for the grace to sacrifice something personal and valuable to secure eternal life and kingdom of God.

“There was once a wise woman traveling in the mountains who found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and she opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked if she might give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime, but a few days later he came back to return the stone to the woman who had given it to him. ‘I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I’m giving it back in the hope that you can give me something much more precious. I want you to give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone without any hesitation.’

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