05 November 2009

The God who asks for more

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 11 October 2009

Readings: Wis 7:7-11; Ps 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17; Heb 4:12-13; Mk 10:17-30 or 10:17-27

The Gospel this Sunday is one of those Gospel stories that teach about what Christian life means. Let us mine the lessons in the sequence of the story.

1. A man approached Jesus and asked: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

We must recognize that is no mere whimsical question or shallow request. Rather the man’s question is indicative of his search for something great, for an ideal. Eternal life for him is that which will give meaning to his existence. And he is not unlike most of us. Don’t we also yearn for something more than what our present life offers? Some writers call it “divine discontent”.

This universal predisposition is reflected in the way we are drawn to figures of heroes and feats of heroism and excellence, be it in sports, the arts, in school, and especially in difficult times. Maybe, you have already heard of the story of one 18 year-old boy who, at the height of the typhoon in Marikina, saved 30 lives from the flood, but who was himself engulfed by floodwaters after his last successful rescue of a mother and her six month-old baby. His lifeless body was recovered the next day. His name was Muelmar Magallanes.

We find inspiration and edification in the triumphs and tragedies of heroes. They are the ones who have truly lived life, the ones who are perceived (rightly or wrongly) to have achieved that something more which most of us yearn for.

In the First Reading from the Book of Wisdom, we listened to the thoughts of Solomon as he himself, then already a king at a young age - with power, prestige and wealth at his disposal - yearned for something else that will help him make sense of it all: wisdom.

2. Jesus, looked at him, and loved him.

When the man came to Jesus and asked his question, He looked at him and knew what it was he needed. Heb 4,12 (in the Second Reading) says the Word of God is “living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.”

One of the ways by which we express our love for somebody is our desire for the best to happen to our beloved. He wants the best for the man. That is why Jesus’ response came in two stages:

3. First, He asked him about the basics.

Jesus asked him if he knew the commandments. The basics are important. They are our foundation, our guiding principles. One cannot say he is faithful to God if he doesn’t keep God’s commandments.

The man replied: “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” But he was to learn that the basics though important don’t constitute the entirety of Christian life. Observing the commandments was not enough.

4. Then, Jesus asked for more…

Because the young man asked for the greatest of grace and because Jesus loved the young man, and so he wants the best for him, He asked him to give up his greatest possession. He called him to do something heroic worthy of the grace he was asking. He asked him to give up his wealth and give the proceeds to the poor.

Indeed, if we want to achieve something great, we must be ready to make great sacrifice as well. In order to possess eternity, we have to offer the rest of our time here on earth.

5. Sadly, the rich man young man turned away because he could not give up his riches.

Many of us are full of big dreams, but what happens when we see the difficulties we have to endure in order to reach them? Do we shrink away, mawaran nin boot? Christianity is not for the complacent or coward. It is the home of the brave.

Many of us like to cheer athletes and feel the excitement of a good game but only in the bleachers or in front of the TV. Many don’t even think about entering the race, getting into the game itself. Christianity is not a spectator sport. It is a way of life.

Many of us want to reach out to those in need but only insofar as our comfort and security is not too much disturbed. Christianity is more than just a call to an occasional donation or volunteer drive. It is a call to heroic living.

6. Jesus turned the episode into a lesson in Christian life

Mk 10,25: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” And riches don’t only mean financial wealth. All of us are rich, each in our own way, e.g., in family ties, talents, opportunities, etc. Thus, all of us have something to offer up to God. God is asking us to offer to Himself all that we have. Those Offertory songs about offering everything really meant to be taken not just figuratively.

Mk 10,27: “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” Can we actually do it? How do we survive? Can we be happy with it? God Himself provides direct assurance. Our natural attraction to heroes (and hero worship) is indirect proof that doing the great sacrifice, required of us by God, in our own unique situations, leads to living life fully.

When Solomon didn’t ask for more power and wealth, and chose wisdom instead so he could better serve his countrymen, God was pleased. Not only did He give him wisdom, but “all good things together came to (him) in her company, and countless riches at her hands” (Wis 7,11).

When we give up all that we have for “Jesus’ sake and the sake of the Gospel” we are actually merely giving back what God first gave us. We lose nothing. We gain everything for we will have God with us, and we will be blessed “a hundred times more now in this present age… and eternal life in the age to come” (Mk 10,30).

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