28th. SUNDAY of Year (B)
(Wisdom 7:7-11; Letter to the Hebrews 4:12-13; Gospel of St. Mark 10:17-30)
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone.”
Perhaps Jesus was gently telling the young man not to use flattery such as ‘Good Teacher’ even though well intended; again, perhaps the young man was thinking that a human being could acquire eternal life for himself and explain to another how to do it; whatever the case Jesus tells him:
No one is good but God alone.
The young man was not thinking aright and so Jesus began inciting him to do better: ‘No one is good, save God alone; why then do you ask Me about your eternal life, about your eternal relationship with the God Who made you? God made you, made you unique and for Himself; you know all that from the Scriptures, why then do you seek My help? Who do you think I am?’
Thus Jesus, emphasizing His own humanity, provoked the young man to do some closer thinking. It was, however, a very gentle process of correction for, as the Gospel says:
Jesus, looking at him, loved him.
He loved him because he had kept the commandments of the Law conscientiously from his earliest years, and Jesus could see the results of such obedience in him. As a reward for that faithfulness in little things, Jesus sought to lead this young man to greater ones, that is, to a more explicit, direct, and personal love of the Personal God. He answered him, though, in such a way that while not directly asserting His own divine Personality He did, nevertheless, respond to and acknowledge – and this time more favourably -- the young man’s opening remark, ‘Good Master’:
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.
Today Jesus still gives His Catholic disciples such advice directly in the Faith of His Church – her proclamation of faith in Him and in His teaching – which is a broad framework embracing all of us believers, and within which there are as many diversities possible as there are individuals created by God for an eternally unique relationship with Himself. And the whole wonderful and mysterious fascination of the spiritual life, and the purpose of spiritual direction, is to find out, in the framework of that One, True, Faith, and under the guidance the Holy Spirit of Wisdom and Truth, how God’s perennial call of individuals to Jesus guides them along their way with Him to the Father.
For someone really seeking God those words – offering the opportunity to accompany and live with Jesus – should have brought intense joy to that young man. In fact, however, we read:
At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Dear People of God, indeed, dear fellow human beings, that is the great danger of possessions: they afford satisfactions and consolations in this life to people largely unaware of their own spiritual needs and weaknesses and their ‘natural’ inclination to sinful folly; and once having opened up before them such an ‘attractive’ byway, they can stifle any selfless appreciation of the Good News, and indeed block up any approach to whole-hearted love for, and abandonment to, God. Such satisfactions and consolations take advantage of our weakness so very easily, making us afraid to experience that instant when we give up, lose hold of, what is so very gratifying to us for something we have not as yet got our hands on, or started tasting, for ourselves. They can make us unwilling ever to entertain the thought of staking ALL, let alone embrace the possibility of giving ALL for the fulfilment which God indeed offers but for which we have still to prove ourselves.
The rich young man’s wealth could not lead him to clear wrong-doing, nor could it prevent him doing much that was good, but it did make it impossible for him to love God wholeheartedly, and it did prevent him from tasting the joy of living in Jesus’ company. With his captive mind and heart he seems to have thought Jesus would perhaps tell him something extra, esoteric, as it were a further treasure which he could make his own and take delight in, put it to diligent use, and thereby assure himself of the holiness required for eternal life without ever having to risk his earthly comforts and securities.
Holiness, however, is not an object we can acquire, it is not a technique we can master; it is God’s loving and total gift of Himself to a soul which – in order to receive such a gift – can only do so by opening up its own ‘self’ in return, as a return gift to the God Who chooses thus to relate Personally with His chosen ones.
The danger of cherished riches of any sort in the world, be they tangible or intangible, is that they are spiritually impersonal and would enslave us by urging us to delight in them, consciously seek deep satisfaction from them, and ultimately trust in and rely on them so completely that we -- like the rich young man -- would then be unable to accept or opt for any deep and intimate personal relationship with God, just as he turned away from following Jesus as His disciple. In such a situation we would then find ourselves clinging most tenaciously to lies which, having early-on promised fulfilment in this life -- such as friends, beauty, strength, power, influence, popularity, satisfaction, and the like – cannot ultimately fulfil even such feeble promises and, instead, leave us a legacy of disillusionment that grows ever deeper with the passing years.
I well remember a frail old lady telling me just how lonely she was finding it to be old, even though -- at the very moment she was thus explaining herself to me -- she was actually surrounded by members of her numerous family going down to the third generation.
Dear People of God, give yourselves exuberantly to pleasures and you will inevitably taste bitterness and pain; trust too much in riches and you will most certainly experience your personal poverty when least able to do anything about it; yes, embrace too ardently (which is not good) the joys of family life (which are good) and you will meet with sad frustration and come to know loneliness.
Only God is definitively good; anything, anyone, else promising salvation is a lie, and would only enslave us so that, with the rich man in the Gospel – because we hadn’t dared risk what we loved wrongly and too much – we could find ourselves rejecting our only true and most sublime destiny, namely, God’s offer of Personal love, abiding fulfilment, and peace beyond all telling.
We can say that the whole purpose of Christian teaching, the Church’s doctrine and dogma, is to give us the Truth; and the whole function of Christian asceticism -- of the Church’s sacraments and exercises of spiritual devotion -- is to make us free to embrace such Truth. And the greatest truth of the Christian faith is:
For human beings salvation is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God with those who believe in the One He has sent, Jesus Christ.
Only when we calmly realize and gratefully appreciate that God is all our hope can we then truly commit ourselves to Jesus, putting Him first in all the details and aspirations of our lives:
If anyone comes to Me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)
Only when we have appreciated on the one hand something of the joy of His presence with us and in us, and delighted in the promises He brings, and on the other hand experienced and realized something of the hopelessness and meaninglessness of life without Him, only then are we free to begin to truly love Him.
And whole-hearted love for God doesn’t rule out love for others; indeed, it can help us love them better, because the greatest danger in human love is that we soon start seeking personal gratification instead of expressing love with and for the other. When, however, having become aware of our own emptiness, selfishness, and folly, we hunger and thirst for the coming of God’s Kingdom in our lives and His love in our hearts, then we find ourselves free to love without -- some way or other – always seeking to get something back for ourselves in return.
People of God, pray to understand your need of God and His grace, your need of Jesus and His companionship (= His most Holy Spirit); pray, indeed, for grace to appreciate with deep gratitude the good things of this life, but also beware of the satisfactions and pseudo-consolations, yes, especially the self-satisfaction, they can so easily inject into our psyche. You are here on earth to learn that God is Good and Holy ... don’t sink to being satisfied with His earthly goods; rather, knowing that the heavenly Giver is infinitely better, beyond, and above all such earthly anticipations try, by the Spirit, to recognize the voice of Jesus as echoing that of His heavenly Father, when He says:
Come, beloved of My Father, follow Me.