Saturday, October 10, 2009

To lack in one thing is to lack everything

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time –Year B
October 11, 2009
(Wisdom 7.7-11:Hebrews 4.12-13:Mark 10.17-30 )

"Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?...
… all of these [commandments] I have observed from my youth."

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,

"You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."

At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions...

This Sunday's Gospel takes on more significance as we commiserate with our compatriots who lost all their possessions in the recent massive floods. Investments that took a lifetime to build were lost in just a fleeting, ill-fated moment. For the very rich who can easily replace their possessions, the burden of sadness is almost nil. For the ordinary worker who labored everyday to invest in modest material possessions, the burden of despair may be very difficult to bear.

One cannot be faulted for longing for and building up material possessions through honest hard work. In the Old Testament, it was acceptable to possess riches as long as one shares it with the community, especially the poor. In the New Testament, Jesus simply commands: Love God above all, and love your neighbor as yourself. It is not forbidden to attain material goods, what is forbidden is to prioritize material goods above God and neighbor. The well-intentioned questioner in today’s gospel misses this point. He may be sincere, but he must realize the grave danger of a wrong attitude towards possessions.

Indeed as Jesus says in Mat 6: 20-21:"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.".

Material goods will come and go, but in the end it will be just our bare selves before God. When the wheat is separated from the tares, no amount of prior material possessions or lack thereof will matter.

This reminds me of the Christian who used to tease his Taoist friend about their funeral customs. In playful banter, he asked the Taoist: "When do you think your dead will rise up and eat all those food you offer?" The Taoist gamely replied: "At about the same time when your dead rises up to smell your flowers.".


aeisiel said...

The one thing we all lack and need to plead for is the Spirit of Wisdom, (1st reading) in order for us to see life for what it is, a journey towards our final destination, to be with God through Christ in the Spirit thus all earthly treasures are totally worthless if not use for His Glory.

That’s why St. Paul said in Phil 3:7-9, all his gains, the privileges of Roman citizenship (which was an honor and highly-priced during his time), of being educated, as to the law blameless (as he was a prized student of Gamaliel I, known as “the Great,” was the first Jewish teacher to be addressed not as rabbi, “my master” but rabban, “our master” – all of this, as compared to the supreme good of knowing Christ is refuse or rubbish (I prefer the word used by the KJV bible “dung”).

This knowing who Jesus is, was what the rich man lack, that’s why when he addressed Him as good teacher, Jesus chided him that no one is good but God alone.

WillyJ said...

How very true.
Those verses tell a lot. Over at creativeminorityreport,
there is an interesting discussion going on with regards to the meaning of It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.... Was it literal, a hyperbole, a metaphor, or everything combined?

aeisiel said...

Willy, thanks for sharing the site. Your comments tops them all, a Bible commentary called this "A parable of impossibility" (maybe from a human perspective) as Jesus warns that extreme difficulties face the rich and threaten their entrance into the kingdom.

But as you posted, “… All things are possible for God.”

Anonymous said...

Hi Willy...long time no read...This is an interesting thread you've

started here and I just wanted to add some thoughts.

From the passages we can see that Jesus' subsequent words were in

reaction to the young man's behaviour. What if the rich man had

reacted differently? Instead of having a long face, what if he

immediately did what Jesus said - sold his possessions and gave it

to the poor? Would Jesus still have made the comparison with the

camel and needle?

It depends on the rich man, right? If he sold everything just so

he'd have done what Jesus said, would he have gotten what he lacked?

I suggest that he could only have obtained what he lacked if, in his

heart, he understood why; that it was not the sellling and giving to

the poor that mattered but that his allegiance should be to God and

not material things. Only then would there not have been a "parable

of impossibility."

The point is that it is not the reality of being rich that can make

it impossible. It is how much we cling to our material possessions

that make it impossible. Salvation has always been a choice.

Choosing material things is to choose to be of the earth and that

will make it impossible to be in heaven. The opposite is true, too -

choose heaven and you cannot be of the earth and your kingdom

wouldn't be here.

Our understanding of impossibility is necessarily based on our

earthbound logic and science. Science would tell us that the camel's

dimensions are too big for the needle and logic follows with a

conclusion of impossibility. Science would tell us that Jesus' walk

on the water was impossible as well. But the word doesn't exist in

Jesus' vocabulary.

Walking on water, turning water into wine, multiplying the bread,

raising the dead, resurrecting Himself - things earthbound science

would consider impossible. Our faith asks us to consider that

impossibilities are, well, impossible.

As for the camel passing through the eye of the needle, I think this

just a metaphor for impossibility and can be found in other cultures

and languages - "puputi muna ang uwak..." or the Indian phrase "the

son of a barren woman" and the American "until hell freezes over..."

- TE

WillyJ said...

Hey TE! Good to hear from you again.

Yes, that is the whole point of the passage: allegiance to God.

In today's times more than ever, the impossibility of the "rich" entering the Kingdom of God rings
just as true as ever. The amusing thing about the camel part is that
ones earthbound mind immediately tries to conjure the image of the camel passing through the eye of the needle. Absurd no? That is why the Apostles were "exceedingly astonished". Jesus could have used a different "metaphor" - a
goat, a rat, even an elephant through the needle and it still wouldn't matter. They would still
be exceedingly astonished as the realization that God can do anything has not yet fully sinked in. Interestingly, early apocryphal accounts
absorbed the literal interpretation. Literal, metaphor or otherwise, it does not detract us from the main point.
If we had to condense the verses to just one thing, it boils down to what Jesus said: come, follow me. It is a timeless message.