Homily for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Oct 11)
We meet a rather melancholy Jesus in the Gospel today, perhaps because of his disappointment in this good man who walked away from him because the man couldn’t give up all he had and give it to the poor. This is the Jesus who makes central his mission to the poor and the spreading of the good news. In Mark’s Gospel, it is the central, core mission. It is also something which goes quite against the capitalist society that we live in in America. I often wonder how the billionaires who claim to be Christian, listen to the reading today and what they must be thinking? How do they justify the huge amount of money they make, while poor are starving all around them in the world. I guess if we put our minds to it, we can justify anything.
Look at this man who comes to Jesus in all sincerity and asks how he can have some of this eternal life that Jesus has been preaching about. He is a good man, not a sinner, who does everything required of him by the Law of Moses, and does it willingly and with a good heart. He was an honest seeker and was respectful of Jesus when they met, even kneeling before him to show his humility and deference in the face of Jesus, the teacher. We are even told that Jesus loved the man. That could be any of us here today.
The man probably expected Jesus to praise what he had been doing and to tell him to keep on doing it if he wanted eternal life. But Jesus doesn’t say that. Jesus gets down deeper. Jesus looks into his heart and sees what is really stopping him from going all the way – his love for his material things and the money he has saved up or put aside. This was not a new idea in Jesus’ teaching, of course. Jesus basically said the same thing to his own Apostles.
When Jesus tells the man that the added thing he can do to assure eternal life for himself was to divest himself of all his material possessions by giving it all away to the poor, to trust in God that there will still be treasure for doing so, and follow Jesus as a disciple, the man was unable to make that commitment. He goes away “grieving”, dejected because he could not make that big a commitment to ensure his eternal life. Would we be any different?
If I told you right now that all you had to do to get eternal life was to sell your house, cash in your 401K, drain your bank account and give it all to the charity of your choice, to be my disciple, trusting that God will make sure you have enough to survive – could you do it? Would you even want to do it?
Jesus’ melancholy shows in his statement: “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” The reason why it will be hard is because their wealth, their love of possessions and money puts a wall up which does not allow them to fully carry out the Gospel message – they want to be the ones accountable for what they have and ensure it will be there when they need, not leave it to God to do so.
Now, in fairness Jesus was saying that this was what a disciple of his needed to do. I guess if you are not a disciple, you have to learn to balance having some wealth with following the teachings of Jesus, by being charitable and sharing some of what you have. But, because most of us in this country have so much, it will still be hard.
In our first reading today, the Book of Wisdom tells of a man who calls on God, in much the same way the man called on Jesus. He is given Wisdom – often a feminine virtue in Scripture – and comes to understand what is important to God. In his new wisdom, the man realizes that following God and following God’s ways are more important than acquiring wealth, having good health, or keeping one’s youth and beauty.
That is so anti-American, it seems to me. Everywhere I look in magazines, on TV, in the other media, all that seems important is up-to-date fashion, cosmetic surgery and steps to keeping one beautiful, playing the stock market to make more money, deifying some Kardashian or rich star. That is what is important to the culture today. So anti-Gospel! So difficult to reconcile with Jesus’ words!
The Epistle to the Hebrews today is unusual in that it deals with the same topic. Most often it is just a random reading. Paul says that in the end we all have to render an account of how we lived, what our priorities were, and how we acted. Even if we have justified all these actions, in the end God can “judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. No creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare.” And how hard it will be for those who have put their love into fleeting things, inappropriate things, material things.
One of the reasons I joined the Catholic Apostolic Church was because I was tired of hearing guilt-inducing sermons that made me feel worse when I left church then when I came in. But when we have readings like these there is a certain amount of guilt it provokes in us, I am sure. Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t really do that. He doesn’t make the man feel guilty. He just tells the man what he has to do if wants eternal life. When the man decides he can’t do it, Jesus doesn’t say “Shame on you! You better change or you’ll never get to heaven!” He simply watches him go and then makes a comment to his disciples at how sad a thing it is that the man couldn’t do it.
So that is how I would like to end with you today. You haven’t come asking to be disciples or priests. Yet, you hear Jesus talk about how difficult it is to balance material things with a spirituality. And that leaves us with a decision as well. Can we balance our lives so that money, material goods, fame, power, sex – all those American dreams – become less important than your relationship with God, and what can you do to make that balance a little more top heavy on the spiritual side each day, so that maybe at the end of life, we won’t have to justify why we haven’t done enough for the poor or the sick or the troubled around us. No guilt – just a path that I suggest might lighten the burden at the end. And this is the continuing Good News I bring you today.