28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
One evening, a wife was by her husband’s beside, dying. She consoled him by saying, “It’s OK, honey. Go and have dinner with Jesus tonight.”
Ten minutes later, the priest arrives at the man’s bedside. He tried to console the man too, by saying, “It’s OK, John, Go and have dinner with Jesus tonight.”
The man, turning to the wife and priest replied, “You both go and have dinner with Jesus tonight, and tell him I’m not hungry.” (thank John Zanchetta for the joke.)
That man just wasn’t ready for what Jesus was asking of him, much like the man in our Gospel story just wasn’t ready to sell what he owned, and to give the money to the poor. It might seem a little harsh to our contemporary ears to hear Jesus give that man such a requirement to be his follower, but Jesus has a reason for each and every invitation and challenge he gives to each one of us, including that man. To Jesus, the man was definitely a type A personality, taking charge of his life, being able to dominate and lead others, and being able to succeed in anything he set his mind to doing. Whether it was the law, his personal relationships or his occupation, the man found he was able to achieve his intended goals relying on his own effort with very little help from others.
And that’s probably why Jesus responds the way he does to the man. Jesus wanted him to give up control of his life and to surrender it into the hands of God. Jesus wanted this man to stop relying on his own strength and power, insight and vision, and instead, to allow God to direct the course of his life according to God’s vision of the ways things should be. Jesus wanted the man to come to terms with the fact that he’s not alone in this world and that he exists in interrelationship with all other human beings, indeed all of creation. Part of that connectedness transcends race, religion, location and circumstance.
And so, to teach this man the lesson he was reluctant to undertake, Jesus asks him to sell his possessions and to give the money to the poor.
In Jesus’ mind, perhaps by doing those two things, the man would come to understand that the material possessions he had in this world couldn’t ever bring him lasting security and happiness. Perhaps too, the man would come to understand the undue reliance he had on those things, rather than submitting his complete and utter trust, hopes and dreams to the Lord. The Lord certainly wanted to emphasize to him that he couldn’t earn his salvation by striving to follow the law to the ‘nth’ degree. He certainly wanted to emphasize that he was a work in progress and that there’s no one on earth who has completely achieved God’s vision for their lives and for our world. Like that man, we’re all still being formed and molded according to the pattern of God’s vision for us, and the only way we can ever be truly ready for our entrance into the Kingdom of God is to allow God’s Holy Spirit to continue that molding and shaping process until our very last breath and to be open to the surprises which the Holy Spirit desires to present to us along the way.
It’s important to note, however, that in the story, after the man replies that he had kept all the commandments since his youth, Jesus looks at him and loves him. —For that was no insignificant accomplishment! Many of us fail to live up to our resolutions after only one day of striving to keep them! Keeping all of the commandments since one’s youth definitely was a great achievement! And Jesus loves him for his dedication and determination! Jesus loves him for opening his heart to the Divine Law and submitting to it. Jesus loves him because he wasn’t bragging either. He really did do what he said he’d done since his youth and was wondering, if that was enough. Could he just coast on his past laurels, now, right into the Kingdom of God or was there something more that he needed to do to inherit eternal life?
I don’t know about you, but I give the man credit for having the courage to even ask the question to Jesus! For many of us in similar circumstances might not attempt to press our luck!
Perhaps, the man asked the question because he sensed that there was still something incomplete about his life that needed to be addressed, some deep-down longing for completeness, but just couldn’t seem to put his finger, on what it was. Whatever the case, the answer Jesus gave him seemed a little too much for the man to handle. It left him shocked! He’d have to give up all his earthly security and to see, in the faces of the poor, God himself. He’d have to acknowledge that he had more in common with the poor and suffering in the world than he might have previously thought. And, sadly, that was simply too tall of an order for the man to accept. Our Gospel story concludes by telling us that the man “went away grieving because he had many possessions.”
Our Lord wants, each and every one of us, to see ourselves as that man in the story, for each of us has a deep desire, like him, to do the Lord’s will and to find eternal life at the end of our pilgrimage on earth. In that noble quest, our Lord invites each of us to consider our answer to the following questions: What accomplishments have I touted before the Lord? What accolades and honors have I received that seem to separate me from others around me? What parts of my Christian vocation seem easy for me to fulfill and which parts seem too difficult for me, to even consider? What aspects of my Christian life have I proudly mastered and what parts am I carefully avoiding?
Like the man in the story, Jesus knows what our calling is in this life and he wants to help us to authentically respond to that calling with each passing day. In order for that to happen though, we have to have some things, that the man in our Gospel story didn’t have.
We have to have the deep-rooted trust and love of the Lord to accept whatever challenges God gives us. We have to cultivate a willingness to tread unfamiliar territory and to interact and minister to unfamiliar people. We have to be willing to leave the comfort of our homes and our churches to meet people on the streets, in the malls, in the hockey arenas, at concerts and sporting events, and on their terms. We have to have the faith conviction that the Lord’s in charge of our lives and that, if we allow him to lead us, we’ll draw closer and closer to the Kingdom of God each day.
Maybe God is calling us, like that man, to lead a simpler life, by getting rid of a lot of our material possessions. Or perhaps God wants us to use our possessions in a more godly way, by using them to help someone who’s in dire straits. Maybe God’s calling us to discover various ways we can identify with the poor and the marginalized and to bring them Good News of God’s love and care to them. This thanksgiving weekend certainly brings such concerns to the forefront of our minds. This thanksgiving is definitely a time to pause and consider the bounty we’ve been given and if we’re being good stewards of that bounty, in the way we use our possessions to help those in need or who may have lost hope of having a dignified, human life.
Or maybe God’s desire for us is something totally unrelated to today’s Gospel. Maybe God’s inviting us to spend more time with our spouse or with our children. Maybe it’s an invitation to leave our family and homeland for service as a priest, religious, or lay missionary in another country. Maybe it’s an invitation to sacrifice of our time for a noteworthy charity or a public service. Maybe God’s will for us is to go deeper into our hearts to develop a really transformative prayer life that includes praying for those who are suffering or alienated in any way from family, church, or society.
One thing is certain. as long as we’re alive, God isn’t done with us and we need to be ready to be sculpted, more and more, each day, by the Lord, trusting in his vision for our lives and for the world. Remember the man asks, “Teacher, What must I do to inherit eternal life?” I invite each of us to ask Jesus the same question today, and to be open to what he tells us!
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