Sunday, October 11, 2015

Life and how to live it

Readings: Wis 7:7-11; Ps 90:12-17; Heb 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30

Jesus is the Wisdom of Father made incarnate. Jesus is the Word of God.

In terms of first of these assertions, St Paul wrote: "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:24). As to the second, C.S. Lewis rightly noted: "It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him."

In today's Gospel we see what the sacred author of the Letter to the Hebrews meant when he wrote: "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" (4:12).

You see, holiness is not merely the observance of externally imposed proscriptions and prescriptions. The rich young man in today's Gospel knew and kept the commandments from his youth, yet still he recognized something was lacking, namely life, the life that is really life, the life the only Jesus can give: eternal life. This lack, this need, is what caused him to approach Jesus. But let's be clear, Jesus did not tell the young man that keeping the commandments was stupid, unimportant, or even unnecessary. It seems to me that what Jesus frequently sought to teach in this regard is the importance of not mistaking means for ends.

As an observant Jew who knew and kept the commandments, which were the 613 mitzvot- 613 individual rules the observance of which made one an "observant Jew"-, the young man would've been considered "righteous" or "just" in the eyes of his fellow Jews. But this was not enough for him, as it is not enough for anyone who honestly interrogates his/her own heart. Observance of the commandments is what we might call a necessary but not sufficient condition for achieving what we truly desire, which is only to desire that for which we are made. I think it's also important to point out that this is not something anyone had to tell him; he knew it.

Jesus, looking on the young man with love, quickly discerned that it was the young man's attachment to his apparently considerable possessions that kept him from experiencing life, from experiencing the hundredfold Jesus promised to His disciples. Indeed, our attachment to and seeking our fulfillment in and through earthly goods is a common obstacle, especially in wealthy Western societies. What do you think will give you security, money or God? The question today's Gospel invites us to ask ourselves is, "What keeps me from experiencing life, true life?" or, "In what or who do I place my hope?"

We must careful when discussing the hundredfold lest we fall prey to the prosperity Gospel, which means that if you give a $100 you can expect to receive $10,000 in return. This is not at all what Jesus promised, note in the list Jesus gives His disciples in telling them of the hundredfold He includes "persecutions"... "Blessed are you..." (Matt 5:10-11).

Wisdom is worth more than earthly riches. If the wisdom of God seems like foolishness, then it stands to reason the wealth of God is experienced through poverty, that is, through detachment from earthly things. The ultimate wisdom is to know Jesus: "Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ" (John 17:3).

All of this was summed well by Pope Francis in his Angelus address today:
The young man [in today's Gospel] did not allow himself to be won over by Jesus’ loving gaze, and therefore could not change. He said that only by accepting with humble gratitude the love of the Lord do we free ourselves from the seduction of idols and the blindness of our illusions

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