14 Oct. 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Wis 7:7-11. Solomon praises Wisdom as more precious than gold, or silver, or health, or beauty.
Heb 4:12-13. The word of God is living and active, a source of true wisdom.
Mk 10:17-30. A good young man declines to follow Jesus, unwilling to let go of his wealth.
The Monkey Trap
African hunters have a clever way of trapping monkeys. They slice a coconut in two, hollow it out, and in one half of the shell cut a hole just big enough for a monkey’s hand to pass through. Then they place an orange in the other coconut half before fastening together the two halves of the coconut shell. Finally, they secure the coconut to a tree with a rope, retreat into the bush, and wait. Sooner or later, an unsuspecting monkey swings by, smells the delicious orange, and discovers its location inside the coconut. The monkey then slips its hand through the small hole, grasps the orange, and tries to pull it through the hole. Of course, the orange won’t come out; it’s too big for the hole. To no avail the persistent monkey continues to pull and pull, never realizing the danger it is in. While the monkey struggles with the orange, the hunters approach and capture the monkey by throwing a net over it. As long as the monkey keeps its fist wrapped around the orange, the monkey is trapped. The only way the monkey could save its life is to let go of the orange and flee.
If you are a lover of animals and you see the monkey struggling to get the orange while the hunters are closing up on it, what would you do? You would probably shout to the monkey to abandon the stupid orange and run for dear life. This is exactly what Jesus does to the rich young man. He sees the man in danger of losing his bid on eternal life on account of his attachment to wealth. So he calls on him to give up his wealth and save his life. Why did Jesus have to do this? Mark tells us that it is because “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (Mark 10:21a). The teachings and directives of Jesus often seem hard and incomprehensible but in the end they are meant for our own good. It will change the way we receive the teachings of Jesus when we realise that, hard as they may be, they are the words of someone who loves us and who knows better than we probably do at the moment what is ultimately in our interest to have or to avoid.
The rich young man is like the monkey insisting on the orange when its life is in danger. So Jesus points out to him the only way of escape: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21b). Why does the young man find this teaching a hard pill to swallow? We know that this man has been a religious, observant Jew since his youth. Religious Jews believed that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. Rich people were regarded as those God had blessed and poor people were regarded as those God had cursed. That is why when Jesus told his disciples how hard it would be for rich people to enter the kingdom of God, “they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, ‘Then who can be saved?'” (v. 26). Here we see the beginnings of what we know today as the “prosperity gospel,” the belief that wealth is a sign of God’s approval, and poverty and hardship a sign of God’s disapproval. The gospel of Jesus challenges the prosperity gospel for, as we see in today’s gospel story, poverty and God’s love can go hand in hand. In fact, voluntary poverty can be a way of responding to God’s love. Prosperity gospel is nothing but materialism in religious garb. Materialism is the belief that without wealth life is meaningless. The rich young man was a materialist believer. Our prayer today is that God may give us more wisdom than the monkey to flee materialism in all its forms. For “what profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit one’s life?” (Mark 8:36)
Owned by Possessions
The first thing to notice in today’s gospel is that the young man was an exceptionally good person. He was most deferential to Jesus, and he was in search of eternal life. He had kept all the commandments since his youth, and Jesus looked on him with love. To all appearances, he was an ideal person. And yet, without condemning, Jesus just had to show him something about himself of which he may have been totally unaware. He was in bondage to his wealth, and it had a stronger grip on him than he had on it. Jesus invited him to freedom, but the cost was too much for him. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
There is nothing wrong with wealth, or with being wealthy. Some of the world’s greatest people, those who did most for the welfare of humanity, have been wealthy people. The fact is, I own nothing. A stroke, a brain haemorrhage or a heart attack, and I am separated forever from all my worldly belongings. “There’s no pocket in the shroud.” There is a narrow entrance at the side of the temple called the “needle.” It is wide enough for a camel to pass through, only if the entire burden is removed from the camel’s back. With the satchels of goods the camel carries down either side, it would not be possible for it to pass through the needle. It is difficult for someone who is weighed down with worldly riches and cares to enter the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom belongs to children. It belongs to the poor inspirit; not the poor, but those who are detached in their spirit from riches. In other words, not being misers, they can part with their riches.
And then there are those who give up everything to follow Jesus. He doesn’t call everybody to do this. He didn’t ask Lazarus or his sisters to leave everything and follow him. This is a special calling. Being called to follow Jesus, however, does mean having to leave something. It involves a change of priorities, a new way of seeing what is important, an interest in riches that are stored in heaven, “where the moth -cannot consume, nor the rust corrode.” Those who leave everything to follow Jesus are among the most blessed of people. We celebrate the lives of Padre Pio, Mother Teresa, and many other great people of our time. Jesus took first place in their lives, and they were blessed with enormous riches of grace, and were sources of much blessing in the lives of others.
First Reading: Book of Wisdom 7:7-11
Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me;
I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.
I preferred her to sceptres and thrones,
and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her.
Neither did I liken to her any priceless gem,
because all gold is but a little sand in her sight,
and silver will be accounted as clay before her.
I loved her more than health and beauty,
and I chose to have her rather than light,
because her radiance never ceases.
All good things came to me along with her,
and in her hands uncounted wealth.
Second Reading: Epistle to the Hebrews 4:12-13
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
Gospel: Mark 10:17-30 or, shorter version: Mark 10:17-27
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age-houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions-and in the age to come eternal life.