Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
October 10, 2021 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Wisdom 7:7-11 | Psalm 90:12-17
Hebrews 4:12-13 | Mark 10:17-30
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today, as Jesus proceeds on his journey through Judea toward Jerusalem, his message regarding the kingdom of God and discipleship becomes increasingly relevant, critical, and challenging. Crowds gather around him as he teaches. Pharisees continue to test his knowledge. Strangers bring their children for blessings. Strange men solicit his counsel. Here, a man stops Jesus along the way, asking him about the kingdom of God.
One of the hallmarks of the doctrinal system of our conservative sisters and brothers is that they look to the Bible for everything and literally interpret scripture; yet in practice, they don’t really follow it. Today’s Gospel illustrates why a literal reading of scripture allows its true meaning to escape.
Dan Cathy, who is a self-professed biblical literalist conservative Christian, owns the Chick-Fil-A restaurant chain. When Mr. Cathy reads the Bible, he relies on it to direct his money to oppose same-sex marriage and otherwise abridge the rights of L-G-B persons. However, although Jesus said nothing about same-sex relationships, Jesus had plenty to say about vast disparities in wealth and income. Yet we do not see Mr. Cathy applying a literal interpretation to today’s Gospel. He has not sold everything he owns so he can direct the proceeds to a charity that serves the least among us.
People like Mr. Cathy, who opposes same-sex relationships, operate under the assumption that such relationships are “against God’s law.” Mr. Cathy, and others like him, was like the man who approached Jesus in today’s Gospel about what he had to do to inherit eternal life. He boasted to Jesus was that he obeyed the commandments of the Old Testament. He asked Jesus, “What more do I have to do to achieve eternal life?”
Before we deal with the answer Jesus gave to that question, we have to answer another question: what’s eternal life?
Eternal life is being with God and becoming part of God forever.
Eternal life is becoming filled with the fullness of God.
Eternal life is important.
Eternal life is a universal human desire, even if everyone won’t admit it.
Given his legalistic mindset, the man who encountered Jesus in today’s gospel was expecting Jesus to give him yet another commandment to follow. Jesus, however, disappointed him in a way consistent with the big picture Jesus presents. Jesus did not come to affirm obedience to commandments and praise financial achievements. Jesus did come to show us God’s eternal love leading to an eternity with God for all of us.
Jesus did not come among us to tell us who should love whom or how people should love each other. Jesus told us to love one another, with no qualifications or conditions. Jesus told the man in today’s Gospel to drop the baggage of his wealth and embrace with love those in need.
People like Mr. Cathy and the wealthy individual in today’s Gospel have what theologians call a legalistic understanding of scripture. In their minds, one is saved from Hell after death by obeying laws that supposedly originate from God but are really just very imperfect human opinions based on the inaccurate perceptions of a pre-scientific world. These imperfect human opinions masquerading as divine law are often promulgated by those in power to maintain their dominance.
In today’s Gospel, the response Jesus gave to the wealthy man was that obeying the ten commandments was not enough to inherit eternal life. And the fact the man was wealthy did not impress Jesus at all. In fact, quite the opposite. Jesus told him to sell all he owned and give the proceeds to the poor
The wealthy man failed to grasp that what Jesus really requires of us was not obeying commandments or the disgorgement of our wealth. What Jesus wants is sacrificial giving of ourselves. Jesus wants us as a living sacrifice of our souls and bodies, to quote the language of the Eucharistic Prayer we’ve been using this summer and fall.
Today’s Second Reading gives us a hint about how we should interact with scripture. We aren’t called to read it literally, but we are called to read it seriously. God’s word is not a lifeless printed page, but living and effective, sharper than a two-edged sword. And God sees not only what we say and do but the condition of our hearts. The wealthy man in today’s Gospel felt first-hand the living and effective nature of what Jesus said to him. The text said it made him sad because he was very wealthy. He was obviously more attached to money than to Jesus.
If we interpret today’s Gospel in a literal manner, we lose its spiritual message. The real message in this story is that sometimes we have to choose what path we will follow. Do we want to commit ourselves to money and material things, or to Jesus? Who and what are our priorities? For Christians, the answer is Jesus. Making Jesus our priority means we commit to Jesus. However, the disciples of Jesus found this a tall order.
Not only had Jesus demanded that they sever their ties with family and community and give Jesus their total loyalty, but now Jesus was asking for a huge financial sacrifice as well. And this continues to be a tall order in the Twenty-First Century in the United State as well. Our cold reality is we live in a materialistic country that values and rewards monetary success to the exclusion of the things important to Jesus like compassion for people.
How wealthy you are means nothing to Jesus. Jesus wants us, not our money. Those whose time and efforts are consumed with accumulating wealth have neither time nor effort remaining for Jesus. That is why it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. If you pour your life into making money, you have no time or energy left for God.
Jesus was less concerned about life in the present world than he was for life in the world to come. What Jesus was attacking was not wealth in and of itself but a here-and-now orientation towards life. Jesus wants to infuse into our lives the big picture of God’s Kingdom, not just the kingdom of our individual lives. The kingdom of God requires sacrifice, self-denial, and sharing as components of the response to the call of discipleship.
The people listening to Jesus did not understand that idea. The people of today’s world also do not understand that idea. Nothing Jesus said criticized wealth in and of itself as inherently bad. In fact, in the days of Jesus, wealth was considered a sign of God’s favor and a reward for piety. The problem with vast wealth arises when it is hoarded rather than shared. The point Jesus was making is that wealth can hinder our relationship with God and our entry into God’s Kingdom.
The security that wealth provides often obscures our need to trust in God. In a nation like the United States that values wealth as much as it does, God takes a back seat. Many people choose wealth over God. But that is a false choice. To become wealthy, you need the wisdom that comes from God.
Our first reading today shows us that the path of wisdom is the path to success. What is wisdom? The wisdom tradition includes what’s called empirical wisdom, which is akin to prudence, gained through thoughtful reflection on life experiences. The practical application of knowledge to the real world moves us from intellectual abstractions to pragmatic realities. Your ability to do that determines your success in life.
Nowhere is that more true than it is with money. One does well financially not because one has money, but because one lives wisely. Some people inherit money but lose it all because they don’t know what to do with it, while others have started their lives with nothing and end up very wealthy.
When it comes to money, wisdom is everything. Wisdom has existed since the beginning of time. All of creation was made possible through wisdom. Whoever finds wisdom finds favor with God. Wisdom shows us life’s possibilities. As Jesus tells us today, nothing is impossible with God. That is because God is the source of wisdom. When we wisely allocate our resources, we can survive and also give of ourselves to the Church.
Even for the Church, money is not everything. Keep in mind that there are three ways to give to the church: time, talent, and treasure. Some people give little or no money to the church but give generously of their time and talent. The church needs your time and talent as well as your money. Serving at the altar, doing church administrative work, setting up the church before services, and cleaning up afterward are very valuable ministries to make church happen. Equally important are your communications with your family, friends, and acquaintances, both in-person and online, to tell them why they should come to Mass and hold their sacramental celebrations here.
Wisdom possesses a more precious value than power, wealth, health, and beauty. Wisdom is what will bring us happiness in this world and the next. That is because in applying our knowledge pragmatically, our values necessarily come into play.
We live by values. Prevailing values do make a difference on individuals and groups. This is because values influence the mentality of an individual or a group. Above all, values determine ways of life. You will live according to what your values are.
Today’s readings reflect the importance of values. Of utmost importance is the contrast between obeying laws and acquiring wealth as against the value of loyalty to, and trust in, God. The ultimate question today’s readings is whether we gain eternal life on our own, or do we do so by trusting God? Do we enter God’s Kingdom by becoming wealthy and obeying commandments, or does our entrance into the Kingdom of God depend on our relationship with God?
Personal values determine a person’s way of being, living, and acting, just like social values determine a society’s way of being, acting, and living.
Jesus is not interested in our money or our obedience to laws. Jesus is interested in our hearts, that is, the core of what makes us tick. The values of Jesus require that our commitment to him is what is deepest within us.
Wherever your value is, that’s where your heart lies. Jesus asks us to relinquish all of the things we value, and we get them back a hundredfold. We are asked to make these choices based on faith, that is, based on trust. We can never be sure of the outcome until we make the choice and we see what happens. Jesus promises fullness of life, real life, not just in the age to come but here and now if we are to take the risk that a total commitment to Jesus entails.
Jesus invites us to take a step into the unknown. For many people, that is scary. We are told that we will not fall. However, we are never sure of this until we take that first step and discover that we have not fallen. The trust we place in God helps us with our choices and supplies us with the ability to see our way ahead to an eventuality where we are blessed a hundredfold with everything. God demands so much of us but gives us so much more. AMEN.