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Reflections for the XXVIII Sunday

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the twenty-eighth Sunday in ordinary time. He says that true religion consisted in one’s sharing his blessings with others rather than hoarding them and getting inordinately attached to them.

Wisdom 7:7-11; Heb 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30.

Central theme: 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. What we have really done is to give our "things” top priority in our lives. Thus, we violate the First Great Commandment, which demands that we give absolute and unconditional priority to God

Homily starter anecdote: How can you trap a monkey?  With a coconut, some roasted peanuts or rice and a string, tribal people living in the border of forests in Africa, Sri Lanka and India have been trapping monkeys for centuries.  At one end of the coconut, they open a hole that is big enough to allow a monkey's hand to push inside. However, the hole is too small for a monkey to remove his hand when he makes a fist.  On the other end of the coconut, a string is firmly attached and tied to a tree trunk.  The coconut trap, with roasted peanuts or roasted rice inside, is placed along a monkey's trail, and the trapper hides behind bushes with a net.  The monkey smells the peanuts and is attracted to them.   He puts his hand through the hole and grabs a handful of peanuts, after which it is impossible for him to remove his hand since he is unwilling to let go of the peanuts.  Suddenly the trapper casts the net over the monkey and traps it.  We too are attracted by different "peanuts" that can be detrimental to our spiritual and physical pursuits.  Today’s Gospel presents a rich young man who wants eternal life but will not relinquish “the peanuts" of riches. (frtonyshomilies.com). 

Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading (Wisdom 7:7-11) 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. Since Jesus is Wisdom Incarnate, when we put following Jesus ahead of everything else we receive everything else along with Jesus. In theResponsorial Psalm (Ps 90), we beg God to teach us how to make proper judgments and choices in our lives that we may live with Him forever.  The second reading (Hebrews 4: 12-13) warns us that we are accountable before God as to how we use our blessings and that the “living and effective word of God” must be our guide in evaluating the use of our blessings.  In today’s Gospel selection (Mark 10:17-30), 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. Jesus reminded the rich man of the commandments that deal with relationships with other people and challenged him to sell what he had and to give the money to the poor.    Jesus shocked his disciples with this challenge to the Jewish belief that material wealth and prosperity were signs of God's blessings. Instead, he declared that true religion consisted in one’s sharing his blessings with others rather than hoarding them and getting inordinately attached to them.

First reading, Wisdom 7:7-11, explained: About a hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the Jewish community was a minority in the great cosmopolitan city of Alexandria, Egypt, cut off from the comforting religious institutions of Jerusalem, and subject to great cultural pressure from the pagan Greek society. They were in danger of losing their identity because of the constant temptation to follow Greek philosophy and Greek morality rather than their Faith traditions.  A learned and faithful Jew assessed the situation of his fellow Jews in Alexandria and tried to bolster their faith with a book, now called Wisdom, which offered them a virtuous way of life.  By "wisdom" the author meant not just worldly wisdom but a spiritual wisdom that included adherence to older Jewish traditions.  Today's first reading, taken from the book of Wisdom, teaches, somewhat analogously, that one should prefer wisdom to every other good thing.  It quotes from King Solomon’s personal valuation of wisdom: “I preferred her [true wisdom] to scepter and throne and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her.” In his prayer for wisdom, the first-century BC Alexandrian Jewish wisdom teacher identifies wisdom as the greatest possession of all and contrasts it with material possessions. True wisdom comes from God; it is the ability to see things as God sees them and to understand things as God understands them.  Only Divine wisdom can teach us how to live wisely and successfully in life, making wise choices. We are also invited to see Jesus as Wisdom Incarnate and to give him priority over everything else in life. In the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 90), we beg God to teach us how to make proper judgments and choices in our lives that we may live with Him forever

Second Reading, Hebrews 4:12-13: The Letter to the Hebrews was written to bolster the Faith of Jewish converts to Christianity.  These converts faced the contempt of their former Jewish friends, and they felt nostalgia for the institutions of Judaism (rituals, sacrifices, priesthood, etc.), that were either absent or greatly transformed in their new religion, namely Christianity.  This letter tries to show them in what ways the new religion of Christianity is better than their old Jewish faith.  St. Paul tells them, "The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword.” The living and effective word of God has the power to penetrate into our body and soul like a double-edge sword. We should allow the word of God in all its vital power and effectiveness to challenge us and our priorities and goals in life. The sharp word of God confronts, chastises, encourages, challenges, nourishes, and inspires all who will attend it. Like a double-edge sword, the word has the dual capacity of revealing God to the believer and revealing the believer to him/herself. No wonder the “two-edged sword” in today’s Gospel story of the young rich man, cuts through all our conventional ways of thinking and drives us to reflect on the things that really matter!

Gospel exegesis: The rich and good young man’s sins of omission.  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.  Hewas 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.

Why should Jesus seemingly reject the title of “good teacher” telling the young man that God alone is good? According to Venerable Bede, the One and Undivided Trinity itself—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—is the Only and One Good God. The Lord, therefore, does not deny Himself to be good, but implies that He is God; He does not deny that He is ‘good Teacher [Master],’ but He declares that no master is good except God.”  Jesus’ injunction to this man was the inspiration for many saints, who have taken Jesus at His word. Perhaps the two most famous were St. Anthony of Egypt (the “Father of Monks” and writer of the first monastic rule; ca. 250-356), and St. Francis of Assisi (ca. 1182-1226), who committed himself to live a life of radical Gospel poverty.

The unaccepted challenge: Jesus realizes that this rich young man is shackled by his possessions.  So, he challenges the young man by listing those precepts of the Decalogue that deal with social and familial relations. Then Jesus tells the young man that, if he wants to be perfect, keeping the commandments is not enough. Hechallenges the young man to share his riches with the poor.  "There is one thing lacking.  Sell all you have and give to the poor, and then you will have real treasure. After that, come and be with me." Jesus thus makes it clear that a true follower who wants to possess eternal life must not only be a respectable gentleman who hurts nobody, but also someone who shares his riches, talents and other blessings with the less fortunate.  In other words, Jesus tells the young man that life is a matter of priorities. God must have the first priority in our lives. Unfortunately, the rich man is unwilling to accept Jesus’ idea that wealth is not something to be owned but rather something to be shared with others.  Jesus asks him to break his selfish attachment to his wealth by sharing it.  He makes the same challenge to each of us today.  Our following of Jesus has to be totally and absolutely unconditional.  Our attachment may not be to money or material goods, nor to another person, a job, our health, or our reputation.  We must be ready to cut off any such attachment in order to become true Christian disciples, sharing our blessings with others.

Camel through the eye of a needle: Jesus uses a vivid hyperbole, or “word cartoon,” to show how riches bar people from Heaven.  The camel was the largest animal the Jews knew, and the eye of a needle the smallest hole.  The needle’s eye is variously interpreted.  Most probably Jesus used it literally.  The little, low and narrow pedestrian gate on the outer wall of the city of Jerusalem through which even a man on foot could hardly pass erect, was also called “The Needle’s Eye” in Jesus’ time.  Others have suggested that kamelos (camel) could have been a scribal or copyist’s error and should have read kamilos or cable (a ship’s thick cable or hawser rope). In either case, the difficulty of dealing carefully and conscientiously with riches is clearly affirmed. Some modern Bible scholars think that both of these interpretations are attempts to "water" down the impossibility of getting a camel through the eye of a needle, but Jesus is saying that it is not impossible, by the grace of God, for a wealthy person to keep his spiritual integrity, though it is extremely difficult and uncommon. Why do riches prevent man from reaching God?  First, riches encourage a false sense of independence.  The rich think that they can buy their way to happiness and buy their way out of sorrow and, hence, that they don’t need God.  Second, riches shackle a man to this earth (Mt. 6:21).  If a man’s interests are all earth-bound, he never thinks of the hereafter. Third, riches tend to make a man selfish.  But we need to understand that Jesus is not against riches as such, nor against the rich.  Zacchaeus, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus were Jesus’ close friends and they were rich.  In other words, Jesus is talking about our attitude towards wealth.  The Bible doesn’t say that money is the root of all evil; it says that the love of money is the root of all evil. Jesus also challenges the Jewish belief that material wealth and prosperity are signs of God's blessings and condemns a value system that makes "things" more valuable than people. Finally, Jesus asserts that those who have made the kingdom of God their priority, will be well compensated both in this life with earthly blessings combined with pains and suffering, and in the next life with everlasting life.

Life messages: 1) 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!”

2We need to accept the invitation to generous sharing. Jesus was so generous that he gave us his very self.  The crucifix is "Exhibit A."  To follow Jesus, we must have a generous heart and be willing to give our money away in order to express our generosity.  In the heart of every Christian there should be a desire to give.  Martin Luther says that the man who has given his heart to God will also give God his wallet.  God does not have to extort money from those who love him. God does not ask us to give up our riches, but He does ask us to use them wisely in His service.  We must manage our possessions wisely, so that they do not gain control over our hearts.  Let us also ask the question: "How do I use my talents?"  God gives us talents.  Hence, they are not really ours.  He lends them to us to be used in this world.  How do we use our talents?  What about time – do we use it for God?  We each get 168 hours every week.  How do we use our time?  Are we too busy to pray each day? 

3) “You are lacking one thing."  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.

4) We need to follow Jesus on his terms, and not on our terms.  This involves giving up whatever in our lives leads us to evil.  That’s step one.  Sometimes it may involve giving up things which are good.  As parents, we might consider all the time and personal recreation and relaxation (all good things), which we have given up over the years for the sake of the children.  As a mother or father who is also a disciple of Jesus Christ, this was required of us, and we made the sacrifice.  When we follow Jesus on his terms, there may be certain crosses to bear, but deep down in the core of our being there is peace, and there is joy, because we know that we are doing our best to carry out God’s perfect will in our lives. (Prepared by Fr. Anthony Kadavil).

10 October 2018, 14:49