Twenty-eighth Sunday (Year B)
(Wisdom 7:7-11; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30)
My dear People of God, we heard in the second reading:
The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart;
And, in our passage from the Gospel we learned something of what those words meant in real life with Jesus:
Jesus, looking at (the young man), loved him, and said, "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow Me." At that statement his face fell and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Jesus then spoke of the Christian life in a manner somewhat alien to modern ears:
(The disciples) were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.’
Today many, aiming to make Christ and the Gospel popular, present the Christian life as something almost second nature to us, and the salvation offered by our Christian hope they portray as a reward to be almost automatically acquired after a life of even minimal devotion. Moreover, their use of Gospel words such as ‘love’, ‘peace’ and ‘joy’, to express the nature of that reward, is usually so jejune, being coloured with predominantly human -- both emotional and sentimental – overtones, that there would appear to be no possibility of conflict between our human aspirations here below and those promised heavenly realities, apart, of course, from their heavenly abundance and eternal permanence. For example, God loves us His children, and we of course, loving our children, give them all we can; we like to buy for them whatever they think they need or whatever they see that other children have and apparently enjoy; surely that is what love involves? We likewise always seek to understand their childish failings and would never demand that they show more obedience or learn to practice self-discipline, for that might cause upset and disturb the ‘peace’ in our family relationships generally; and ‘peace’, of course, is a Gospel word for a most desirable heavenly reality. In like manner, the ‘joy’ imagined by these promoters of popular Christianity adds -- they confidently assert -- to the richness of our personality here and now on earth, and thereby, inevitably, to the fullness of our preparation for heaven. How in heaven (!) then, could self-forgetfulness, let alone self-denial and self-discipline, ever be imagined to promote mankind’s true fulfilment?
This popular presentation of the Gospel is seen to be an emasculated and inauthentic version, when, thanks to Mother Church’s use of her Scriptures in the liturgy, we listen again to Jesus’ own proclamation of the Gospel of salvation:
For human beings (salvation) is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.
The rich young man had, according to the Law, lived a very good, and moreover, very rich and fulfilling life; but now he discovered that his appreciation of the word ‘good’ was too superficial and even somewhat blasphemous, for Jesus said:
Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
Again the young man believed he had always loved God supremely, but Jesus went on to say:
You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow Me.
Those words pierced the young man so deeply that, we are told:
At that statement his face fell and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
He went away because he had just been brought to realise how much he loved his earthly possessions: those earthly possessions ultimately meant more to him than his heavenly aspirations. He went away sorrowful because he knew that he was turning away from the best option; for the call of Jesus to personal discipleship was, he realized -- while not a command -- certainly an offer, and an awesome opportunity. He could not however, turn his back on his money and all the good things of life on earth that it afforded him: above all, perhaps, that prominence which brought him the esteem and admiration of others.
If you now recall how we began Mass you will remember that we said, Lord, you were sent to heal the contrite, and then we went on to add: You came to call sinners. Many tend to think the contrite are people like us, who go to Church; while the sinners are those others to whom the Gospel is an unknown message to be preached in the streets of our cities, along the highways and byways of our countryside, and in the mission fields, be they in deepest Africa, or furthest Asia. That, however, is a mistaken idea, because Jesus is continually calling all of us, contrite and sinners, to open our hearts and minds ever more and more to the healing power of His love. The Word of God proclaimed at Mass,
(being) sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart,
is meant to pierce all mankind and, having penetrated through manifold layers of human sinfulness, self-satisfaction, and personal ignorance, to thereby enable each and every one of us to see the truth of our own condition more clearly, just as it did with the rich young man. That young man had to be shown the depth of his attachment to money, not indeed to humiliate him, but that he might become able, first of all to appreciate and then to respond to, a yet higher vocation in life here on earth, namely, with Jesus, to learn of and love the Father above all else; and in Jesus, to attain to eternal life and glory before the Father in heaven:
Sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow Me.
Now, Jesus does not say the same words to everyone who turns to Him for salvation. The Word of God, which Mother Church proclaims here at Mass and throughout her liturgy and public ministry, can be of special significance for any and every one of us who hear it, at any stage in our life, ever seeking to open us up to ourselves anew, showing us how much His healing is still needed in our lives, and thereby enabling us to respond to a further call – more demanding, yes, but also more fulfilling -- from Jesus.
Jesus, remember, does not look bleakly at us with a cold eye and critical appreciation, for we have been called and guided to Him by the Father:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44)
Therefore Jesus loves us, just as He loved the rich young man, as we heard:
Jesus looking at him, loved him.
Jesus loved him because He saw what He could make of that young man if he were to become His disciple, He saw the glory that young man might give to the Father. And so, the Word of God penetrated to the core of his being for his greater blessing; if only he would accept that Word and the revelation of himself generated by it.
People of God, never turn away from God’s Word heard or read in the Scriptures and in the teaching of the Church: never turn away from it because it makes you feel uncomfortable, because Jesus does not seek or plan our ultimate discomfiture. He loves us and wants only to help us glorify the Father together with, and in, Him; to lead us to the fullest realization of our divine potential. To that end we must never forget what we heard in the second reading:
There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
Like foolish children, we simply do not know either the truth about ourselves, or what is truly good for us. All things are naked and open to the eyes of God, and His holy Word comes to us, at times, to cut us to the quick and thereby help us first to realize, and then hopefully to embrace, what is best for us; for:
(It) is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow;
it is, however, only piercingly sharp at those times when God wants, by that Word, to help us, as Scripture says:
(to) discern the reflections and thoughts of (our own) hearts.
And this He does because, to all those who will lovingly accept His Word and humbly acknowledge what they have been led to recognize about themselves, the words of the prophet Malachi will apply, who declared in the name of the Lord:
To you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings. (4:2)
People of God, if you would truly appreciate the dignity of your calling as Catholic disciples of Jesus, then pray that you might be so privileged as to allow the Word of God to do its work in you. Do not reject its sometimes piercing and penetrating smart, for ultimately it will bring the healing for which you long. Remember the advice given us in the first reading from the book of Wisdom:
The spirit of wisdom came to me; (and) all good things came to me along with her: in her hands uncounted wealth. I chose to have her rather than light, because her radiance never ceases. (NRSV)