October 11, 2015

ORDINARY (28) B

Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? – Mk 19: 17

   This is an unlikely question today, but one that is being increasingly asked as we come to realize that materialism has failed to satisfy man’s deepest needs. The very question itself is instructive by its use of two words: inherit & eternal. Our Lord’s first response is to point to His Father by pointing to the commandments. Given the cynical & antinomian environment in today’s culture, it is a hard saying to assert that salvation comes through obedience to divine law; but it is one aspect of our Lord’s teaching that will not go away. Jesus insisted that what we do is more important than warm feelings or good intentions, or even sincerity.

   Of course, we know what happens when commandments become an end in themselves – stultifying legalism. What this means is that devotion to God’s laws is a necessary but not sufficient condition for salvation. It is a prerequisite but not all that is required to enter into that happiness that can only come from living the life-style of God.

   That something more consists of a challenge to radical piety (radical in its etymological sense of going to the root of a matter). Our Lord’s remark about camels & needles is not a blanket condemnation of wealth. Nor is He romanticizing poverty, but the recognition of any impediment that blocks our relationship with God. In this man’s case, it just happened to be his great possessions.

   I doubt that most of us here have the problem of being stewards of great wealth, but each of us has our own cherished & well-guarded enclaves in our lives which we cannot yield so as to follow Him. It could be pride in our intellect, a presumed moral superiority, a smug liberalism or conservatism, the pleasure of power that comes with money or our ability to intimidate others into doing what we want them to do. It could even be just self-pity, despair or pessimism. Whatever,  the consequence of these “riches” that we so desperately cling to is a superficial religion that is devoted to what is essentially trivial instead of a solid devotion & Christian virtues – a state of affairs that is spiritually disastrous.

   When this happens religion becomes a nuisance because we have become spiritual parasites. Prayers for peace, & the afflicted & the hungry become substitutes for action, or we fall prey to having a good intellectual or emotional worry about evils we cannot cure. In the end, if we are lucky enough, we come to recognize the vanity of our life-long ambitions & the poverty of our most cherished “riches”.

   The point of today’s Gospel is that radical piety is none other than radical dependence upon God. The habitual happiness of the saint is the happiness of one who is always seeking God & always finding Him. The Christian heart sees the mystery of the Way, the Truth, & the Life. Herein he finds, not a set of rails that keeps him on  the straight & narrow, but a lighter-than-air craft that lifts him above the mundane & trivial & helps him to soar ever higher into a new world of eternal Love.

   But we can never get off the ground until our religion becomes thorough enough to permeate every pore of our daily lives. How far does our dedication to God reach through the whole day? We can waste our time & live without discipline & prayer, & we will stand a good chance of escaping the knowledge of what God wanted us to do with our lives. We do not put things into hands that cannot hold them, & neither does God. If we cannot be trusted with transforming the petty things that creep into our lives into something beautiful for God, then He will stop entrusting us with His treasures; maybe we will be glad, because the challenges He gives to His servants are rarely to their worldly advantage.

   This is what happened to the man in today’s Gospel. He was well-intentioned enough, & had striven to meet the demands religion placed upon him. But he forgot that if you ask God a question you’re liable to get an answer & it might not be one you can cope with. He failed to realize that obedience is only a stepping stone to giving God our innermost self – the only offering that can make eternal life a present reality.  AMEN!