August 20, 2018
by Cindy Murphy McMahon
Creighton University's Office of Marketing and Communications
click here for photo and information about the writer

Memorial of Saint Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church
Lectionary: 419

Ezekiel 24:15-23
Deuteronomy 32:18-19, 20, 21
Matthew 19:16-22

Praying Ordinary Time

Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer

This week’s readings from Matthew give us a lot to ponder. Today the young man who approaches Jesus could appear, to a casual observer, to be sincere. But if you look below the surface, there may be more that is going on in this conversation.
The young man asks Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life. Notice that he is looking for a to-do list, not suggestions on how to change his deeper self. Jesus answers him in the same way he presents the question, in keeping with his way of meeting people where they’re at. He initially says, “Keep the commandments,” to which the man replies, “Which ones?” That response implies that there are certain things the man is willing to do, but certain other things he may not be willing to do. How much like us that is! How nice it would be to just have a very short to-do list, all neat and compact, that would guarantee we would have a nice life here and happiness forever in heaven.
Jesus then recites several of the commandments, and the young man says “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”

He’s about to find out it’s not that simple. God is more concerned with the quality of our hearts then the accomplishments of our to-do list. What follows is that Jesus tells the young man that if he wishes to be perfect, “go and sell what you have and give to the poor. Then come follow me.” When the young man hears this, Matthew tells us, he went away sad for he had many possessions.

This Gospel has long been interpreted to mean that not everyone needs to sell all of their possessions in order to be right with God, but that Jesus was looking into the heart of this young man, and saw that he was looking for a way to get right with God only as far as it fit his own agenda. The lesson for us is that Jesus knows our hearts, and he knows what each of us are clinging to in hopes of somehow getting around whatever God is asking of us.

As I write this reflection, it is an overcast summer day with pleasant 70-degree temperatures, and I am looking out at the green trees and grass in my backyard, with splashes of color from blooming flowers. The scene is very peaceful, with only the sounds of chirping birds. It very much reminds me of what it must have been like in the early days of the Garden of Eden. No evil to be seen or witnessed, just calm peace.

This is the world we would all like to inhabit, but that is not reality. In reality, we must go out into the very messy world, with all of our own struggles and shortcomings and sinfulness, and bring God’s kingdom to those we meet. One of the ways we can do that is to consider the words of the refrain from today’s psalm from Deuteronomy, “You have forgotten God who gave you birth.” That is what the young man in the Gospel story did. He forgot that there was a loving God who had willed him into being, who is with him every step of the way, and who wants to welcome him at the end of his life into eternal life.

Let us always remember “the God who gave us birth” as we live our lives, and always reach for the hand of Jesus, which is the heart of God. That way, there will always be room in our hearts for the heart of God and his will for us, if we but open ourselves to that possibility.

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