28th Ordinary Sunday (Year B)
First Reading: Wisdom 7:7-11 Second Reading: Hebrews 4:12-13 Gospel Reading: Mark 10:17-30
“TRAVEL LIGHT ON YOUR LIFE-LONG JOURNEY TO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN!”
There was a father who one day took his little son to buy a puppy. When they arrived at the home where the puppies were sold … they walked around to the back yard where the puppies were. There they saw inside a fenced in area, seven little puppies. As the Father and son looked at them .. they noticed one little puppy whose little tail was wagging faster than the tails of the other little puppies. The father then said to the owner of the puppies, "Sir, we'll take the one with the happy ending."
I suppose everybody likes a story with a happy ending. When we look at the personal encounters Jesus had, while on earth - most of them ended gloriously, for most often, the people who met Jesus were healed, saved and eternally changed. However, not every meeting ended so gloriously! In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Mark, we are presented with a man - young & rich - who had a personal encounter with the Jesus that ended tragically - “... his countenance fell, and he went away sad, ...”
In the Gospel text we read that the rich young man was so right, yet so wrong. He came to the right person, asked the right questions, received the right answers, but made a wrong decision. So, what was the problem he carried? In spite of all he had going for him, this man had one mighty big skeleton in his closet! In spite of all that he had, he still had an itch he could not scratch! He had found that his youth left him unsatisfied. His money had left him feeling unfulfilled. His morality, his clean living and his religious activity had not been able to satisfy the deepest longing of his soul. His swift climb up the rungs of the social ladder had failed to give him what he wanted most: 'peace with God.'So, he came with haste to Jesus, fell down before him and cried out - “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He then assured the Good Teacher that he had kept the commandments since he was a child. Jesus looked steadily at him with love for his uncomplicated integrity, his sheer goodness. But this goodness was not enough and so Jesus challenged him to do one more thing - “There is one thing you lack,” he said. Here comes the bombshell - “Go, sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, and follow me.” And the young man was understandably unable to do this easily. Definitely, it would not just be the riches that would be lost but the lifestyle they permitted - the comfort, security, fine food and wines and the admiration of others. And what would he be giving it up for? So “... his countenance fell, and he went away sad, ...” “Travel light on your life-long journey to the Kingdom of Heaven!”
Jesus takes this opportunity to speak to his disciples about the difficulty of the salvation of those who have an abundance of this world. He says - “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.” This turned the disciples' understanding on its head. Of course, Jesus is not saying that the rich will never enter the Kingdom of God. Nor he is asking everyone to embrace such an absolute poverty - that's a special vocation, to which only a few are called. Nevertheless, in different ways we are all called to follow Jesus with a total commitment. The acquisition of possessions can so easily dominate our lives. We can come to think that they can provide us with a happiness and security, which only God can give. The desire for material prosperity can easily distort our judgment as to what is most important in life - seeking first the Kingdom of God. Being preoccupied with wealth may blind us to what God is offering us. Only he can give us lasting security, happiness and peace. He wants us to seek nothing but the very best, and be content with nothing less.
There is a legend that says that there was a gate called 'the eye of the needle' that led into the holy city of Jerusalem. This gate was actually shaped like the eye of a needle and a camel walking upright could not pass through it. However, if the camel stooped and had all its baggage removed, it could pass through the entrance. After dark, when the main gates were shut, travelers would have to use this smaller gate, through which the camel could only enter unencumbered and crawling on its knees!
The idea here is to show that we must humble ourselves, become free of our worldly goods, and be unburdened by sins to pass into the kingdom of heaven. It also implies that even rich people can get into heaven provided they approach God on their knees without all their baggage. “Travel light on your life-long journey to the Kingdom of Heaven!”
In the First Reading of today from the Book of Wisdom, the author clearly says that wisdom is more desirable than riches. It is also to be valued above power, health, and beauty. What is wisdom? Wisdom involves seeing deep down below the surface of words and events, making a judgment as to the truth of that insight, and giving an assent which we call 'understanding.' Wisdom enables us to keep our priorities straight. It helps us to see things from God's point of view. Sometimes we hesitate to seek the things of God because it might mean we have to lose the things of earth. But when we seek God and God's kingdom first, everything else of true value will follow.
The word of God's wisdom is not always comfortable, though: “It cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts of the heart," this is what the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews says in the Second Reading of today. Sometimes God's wisdom brings us uncomfortable realizations about ourselves. We may find that all our activity and buying and selling were ways of avoiding things.
The Scripture Readings of today can also be a useful reminder in our day when so many people believe that amassing wealth will lead to security and happiness. It is true that destitution inhibits the growth of human beings and leads to human misery - but excessive wealth can have a similar effect. Eventually, the external treasures begin to contrast with the emptiness of the inner coffers and people sense that there is something more that they need to find.Therefore, we can rest lightly on our wealth and cultivate an awareness of 'enough' - an attitude of poverty: 'I have enough to meet my need - I do not yearn for more.' It is an attitude which can be liberating - setting us free from a grindstone to begin filling our souls with treasures which will endure to eternal life. We can expand our knowledge - reflect on life - explore new horizons - and always, seeking the gifts extolled in today’s First Reading: 'the gift of wisdom and understanding.'
Jesus is calling us today to travel light with him and not be held back by unnecessary clutter. If we've learned to 'travel light on our life-long journey to the Kingdom of Heaven' we will find it far easier to follow Christ, who gained the fullness of life and the glory of heaven by being emptied of everything on the cross. There's something liberating in not being weighed down by excess baggage. That's especially true when following Christ. “TRAVEL LIGHT ON YOUR LIFE-LONG JOURNEY TO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN!”
Here we're brought face to face with the challenge of Jesus and we have to come up with a response. The question for us is: What are we going to do about it? Shall we change the orientation and tenor of our lives? Or shall we say it's all a bit too risky? Shall we go away like the rich young man? Sorrowfully, of course. But go away all the same.