|28th Sunday of Ordinary
90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17
So as to be more available to God’s grace contained in the Liturgy
of the Word, imagine Jesus taking the pulse of a man kneeling before him.
The man looks earnestly into the face of Jesus who in turn looks kindly into
the man’s eyes.
The two are having an intense conversation about religious commitment
and as Jesus refines his expectations about what constitutes holiness or
discipleship, Jesus notices the man’s heartbeat increase dramatically when
Jesus asks him to sell all his goods and then follow along with the other
disciples. Jesus seems frightened by the increase in heart rate when the
man hears this. Getting up quickly the fellow turns and walks away with downcast
head and spirit. His heart was breaking at the invitation, but his heart
just wasn’t in it.
Sometimes in reading and or listening to scripture there is a margin for
interpretation, some wiggle room. At other times there is hardly enough room
or need for a homily or Daily Reflection. Today’s Gospel is one such offering.
What words do we not understand? This is not an issue of morality exactly,
but strictly about relationship. We are invited to pray for an increase of
faith so that the security which riches provide is replace with the wisdom
which God provides.
We pray for the freedom from those things which possess us and for a generosity
with those things we possess. The simple call of Jesus is not to make anything
a god and God will make all things plentiful and good.
The First Reading from the Book of Wisdom is a profession and boast of faith.
The speaker reviews the history of personal prayer and the resultant change
from the ordinary which took place. Not all that glitters is gold, but even
gold and silver compared to true wisdom fade in attractiveness. Compared
to the usual attractions of health, wealth, light and beauty, this sense
of life’s true meaning and value are counted as unattractive. With such a
sense, the speaker acknowledges the abundance which came with “her” as a
companion. The author had truly a reverse of fortune not from riches to rags,
but from thingliness to true goodliness.
The Gospel story opens with the “Big Question.” As Jesus is walking along,
a man drops to his knees before Jesus and asks the quite human question about
what are the requirements for earning, achieving, winning, gaining, or manipulating
one’s way into eternal life. Jesus of course asks the man to reflect on his
own religious tradition. After the man recites what the law prescribes, Jesus
gives him the “Big Answer.”
“Eternal life” is not a prize to be won through specific actions, but through
an attitude which is formed through a relationship. Jesus asks the man if
the relationship he has with Jesus is deep, enough to sell all he possessed
and then could that relationship continue by his following with the disciples.
The man shakes his head and walks away back to hold on to what he knows will
save him from insecurity, but he seems sad at the prospect.
Peter too has a “Big Question.” He hears Jesus reflect on the
difficulty for the materially rich to enter the “kingdom of God.” “What about
us?” he asks. “We have left everything.” For human effort to win, gain, achieve
or manipulate the acquiring of “eternal life” is impossible, but with God’s
love received as a relational gift, all things are available and possible.
Shortly after entering the Jesuit novitiate near St. Louis, Missouri, we
were given permission to take a swim in the Jesuit-made pool. The temperature
of the summer day was just a little warmer than the water, but it was supposed
to be a real treat. I jumped in and I heard the Novice Master say, “Now this
is a part of the hundred fold.” I shook my head as much in disbelief as to
clear my ears of water. I thought to myself that the “hundred fold” better
be a lot better than this and a lot better than these new “brothers” which
were supposed to be also a part of the “Big Answer.”
Jesus is the “Wisdom Figure” who offers his followers a sacred view of everything
and everybody. The “big question” for us is about his being serious concerning
financial wealth and material possessions being a condemning barrier to eternal
life. The “big answer” has to do with whether one makes a god out of wealth
and things. Riches were a sign of God’s blessing in the Jewish tradition.
Jesus is presenting himself as the ultimate wealth. He places himself as
the most important reality in life against which all else is sacred, but
secondary. He presents himself as the ultimate source of security against
which everything else ultimately disappoints us.
What Jesus offers the rich man is a relationship rather than a blueprint
or set of specifications. It is not “what must we do,” but “whom must we
do.” Jesus is person not law and he invites the man beyond prescriptions.
He enriches the poverty of all things and offers them as sacraments or gestures
of blessing and accompaniment. It is very hard when we are surrounded by
riches to find our security outside what we can touch, use, and indulge.
True spiritual poverty results in a sense that everything has God’s fingerprints
on them and are meant to be received, shared, and reverenced.
The old swimming pool is gone, my brothers have changed quite a bit and they
are truly part of the “hundred fold.” I have many gifts surrounding me here,
but my identity and security lie beyond and that is worth more than everything.
The rich suffer want and go hungry, but nothing
shall be lacking to those who fear the Lord.” Ps. 34, 11