28th Sunday O T Year B – 15
Wis.7:7-11, Heb.4:12-13, Mk.10:17-30
A little child was playing one day with a very valuable vase. All of a sudden he put his hand into it and could not withdraw it. His dad, too, tried his best, but all in vain. They were thinking of breaking the vase when the father said, “Now, my son, make one more try.
Open your hand and hold your fingers out straight as you see me doing, and then pull.” To the Dad’s astonishment the little fellow said, “Oh no, Dad. I couldn’t put my fingers out like that, because if I did I would drop my pennies that I have in my hand.
Many of us are like that little boy, so busy holding on to the worthless pennies of the world that we cannot accept liberation. The rich young man in today’s gospel is just another example. He wants eternal life but will not let go “the peanuts” of riches. The young man is a metaphor of all our lives. His story deserves our attention.
Today’s readings remind us that we do not possess anything in our life that we refuse to surrender to the Lord. In reality these things often possess us, and we become the prisoners of our possessions.
The first reading advises us to use the God-given virtue of prudence and to seek true wisdom in preference to vanishing realities like riches or political and social influence. Solomon chose Wisdom before everything else. But when he accepted Wisdom, he received everything else along with her.
The second reading warns us that we are accountable before God as to how we use our blessings. In today’s Gospel we find three sections: a narrative about Jesus’ encounter with a rich man, Jesus’ sayings about wealth as a possible obstacle to following him and Jesus’ promise of reward for those who share their material possessions with the needy.
Let me quote a sentence from the first reading. “I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me…. Compared with her I held riches as nothing.” This is the background to the gospel story of the rich young man, who made the wrong choice: when the choice was put to him “his face fell and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.”
This man (in Matthew, a young man) runs up to Jesus and with totally exaggerated courtesy asks him what he must do, etc. Full marks for enthusiasm, but none for follow-through. You can imagine him running up to any and every new teacher, and turning away disappointed when they asked him to change his life.
He wanted religion as entertainment; he was interested in using religion for his own purposes, perhaps, without being challenged by it. We all have that in us. Some of us avoid the challenge by refusing to change, others by changing all the time.
The rich young man was a true believer in the other God: Mammon. There can be no final peace between these; they are the ultimate rivals. Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Matt.6:24). Some people would say, “Can we not serve God and Mammon?
We become very skilled at keeping them in combination. Sometimes we are capable of using God as a cover for our worship of Mammon. More commonly we serve God, as we imagine, but with the mind of Mammon, calculating in every area of life as if everything were bargains and profit.
But the most common solution of all is to keep them in separate worlds; God in the world of theory and Mammon in the world of practice. Is there any hope for us? Yes, there’s always hope. As usual, Mark shows a more ‘feeling’ Jesus. Matthew and Luke write simply, “Jesus answered…”, but Mark writes, “Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and said….”
From Matthew and Luke you could get the impression that the rich man was a write-off. True, he is never heard of again in the New Testament, but could anyone whom Jesus loved be a write-off? Jesus did not demand perfection of him; he just held it before him as an invitation.
An invitation is by its nature optional; you cannot imagine Jesus taking any kind of revenge on him for refusing it. There are stages in our life, and the Lord has more patience with us than we have with ourselves or with one another.
All three Gospel writers say that the rich man became “sad.” They didn’t need to say that Jesus was sad, because it was so obvious. The Twelve were all called individually by Jesus, and they all followed. Even Judas followed for three years.
But the rich young man is the only one in the New Testament who was called individually and did not follow. “He went away sorrowful, because he was very rich” (Matt.19:22). There is nothing quite like wealth for closing the ears and the mind, for deadening the conscience.
After a while it also closes the eyes, so that we no longer see the poor. That rich young man is never heard of again in the New Testament. He might have become a greater apostle even than Peter or John.
A wealthy older gentleman had just recently married a lovely young lady, and was beginning to wonder whether she might have married him for his money. So he asked her, “Tell me the truth: if I lost all my money, would you still love me?”
She said reassuringly, “Oh honey, don’t be silly. Of course I would still love you. And I’d miss you terribly.” Obviously, this young man who came to Jesus in search of eternal life really wanted to be accepted by Jesus as a disciple.
However, Jesus did not want this man as a disciple on his own terms, but rather on Jesus’ terms. The young man claimed that, from his youth, he had observed all the commandments Jesus mentioned, including the fourth commandment.
His tragedy was that he loved “things” more than people. He was trapped by the idea that he could keep his possessions and still obtain God’s mercy. He failed to realize the fact that his riches had built a wall between himself and God.
In other words, his possessions “possessed” him. Even though the rich man had never killed, stolen, or committed adultery, he was breaking both the commandment forbidding idolatry and the one commanding love of neighbor. He worshiped his wealth more than God.
We need to “Do something beautiful for God” by reaching out to others. That’s the message we need to reflect on. Our most precious possession is our souls. Let us give ourselves away and give lavishly. Mother Teresa puts it in a different way: “Do something beautiful for God. Do it with your life. Do it every day. Do it in your own way. But do it!”
We all have something in our lives that serves as a major obstacle to happiness and peace. We must recognize this obstacle and address it head-on. It may not be riches – it may be anger, holding grudges, alcohol, drugs, lust, apathy, lies, unfaithfulness, theft, or fraud.
Let us invite God into our lives and into our efforts to face and remove that one obstacle to holiness. We have a decision to make: whether to go away sad like the rich young man, or to follow Jesus and be happy. Let us choose Happiness. Amen.