11Oct 11th October. 28th Sunday, Ordinary Time

Saint Canice, not celebrated this year. (See below)

1st Reading: Wisdom 7:7-11

Solomon praises Wisdom as more precious than gold, silver, health, or beauty.

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.

2nd Reading: Hebrews 4:12-13

The word of God is alive and active, bringing wisdom

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)

The rich young man declines to follow Jesus

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.

bible

Saint Canice

Cainnech (Latin Canicus), was a 6th century monastic founder and missionary said to have been born in Dungiven, Derry, and to have died in Kilkenny (Cill Cainnech). Anything we know of him is from the few references in Adomnán’s Life of Saint Columba.

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. Slipping its hand through the small hole, the monkey grasps the orange, and tries to pull it through the hole. Of course, the orange won’t come out, since it’s too big for the hole. But the persistent monkey continues pulling and pulling to no avail , never realizing the danger it is in. While it struggles with the orange, the hunters approach and capture the monkey in a net over. Looking on, we could see that as long as the monkey keeps its fist wrapped around the orange, it is trapped. The only way to save its life is to let go of the orange and flee.

Seeing the monkey struggling to get the orange while the hunters are closing up on it, an animal-lover would shout to make the creature abandon the stupid orange and run for dear life. This is rather like what Jesus advises the rich young man. He sees him in danger of losing his chance for eternal life on account of his fixation on money. So he advises him to turn his back on wealth and save his life. Why did the choice have to be so stark? Mark say it is because “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (10:21a). The advice of Jesus often seems hard to follow but it is always meant for our own good. It will change our way of thinking if we realise that these are the words of someone who loves us and who knows better than we can do what can lead us to eternal life.

The rich young man is like the monkey tragically clinging to the orange when its very life is in danger. So Jesus suggests another way to him: “Go and sell what you have, and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But the young man finds this teaching a hard pill to swallow since, like many others, he believed his wealth was a sure sign of God’s blessing. Even today the “prosperity gospel” is widespread: the belief that wealth is a sign of God’s approval, and poverty and hardship a sign of God’s disapproval. Therefore when Jesus said how hard it would be for rich people to enter the kingdom of God, his disciples were astonished and asked, ‘Then who can be saved?'” (v. 26). The real gospel challenges the prosperity gospel for God’s love can go hand in hand with material poverty. In fact, voluntary, dedicated poverty can be a way of responding to God’s love. Materialism is the belief that without wealth life is meaningless. The rich young man was a materialist at heart. We can pray today to have more wisdom than the monkey, and avoid materialism in all its forms. For what is the use of to gaining the whole world and lose our life in the process?

Owned by our “stuff”

At first sight the young man comes across as an exceptionally good person, deferential to Jesus and somehow searching for the way of eternal life. He had kept God’s commands since his youth, and Jesus looked on him with love. An ideal person, you would think, to receive the gospel. And yet Jesus wanted to show him something about himself of which he was totally unaware. He was owned by his own wealth, and it had a stronger grip on him than he had on it. Jesus invited him to become free of it, but the cost seemed too just too high. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

There is nothing wrong with money as such, or even with being wealthy. Some of the world’s greatest people who did most for the welfare of humanity, have been wealthy people. But at a deeper level the fact is thatI own nothing, absolutely. My hold on things is provisional, temporary. A sudden stroke, a brain haemorrhage or a heart attack, and I am separated forever from all my worldly belongings. “There are no pocket in the shroud.” Apparently there was a narrow entrance at the side of the temple called the “needle.” It is wide enough for a camel to pass through, but only if the load was removed from the camel’s back. With the panniers of goods the camel normaly carried on either side, it would be impossible to pass through the Needle gate. How hard it is for people who are weighed down with money and ambitions to enter the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom belongs to children. It belongs to the poor in spirit; not so much economically poor, but detached from riches in their inmost spirit. For a worthy cause, they can part with their wealth.

Then there are some 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 home and follow him. But being a follower of Jesus does mean having to leave something. It involves a change of priorities, a new way of valuing things, an interest in the riches that are stored in heaven, “where moth cannot consume, nor rust corrode.” Those who leave everything to follow Jesus are among the most blessed of people, dedicated souls like Padre Pio, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, aid workers in places torn by war and disease, and many other unsung heroes. Such people are blessed with the riches of God’s grace, and bring much blessing to the lives of others.

Engaging in serious conversation

Jesus gave his full attention to people who turned up out of the blue, wanting to talk to him. In this morning’s gospel, we are told that Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put the question to him, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ At this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem; this was the most important journey of his life. When the gospel says that Jesus was setting out on a journey, the evangelist was stating that Jesus intended to journey on further in the direction of Jerusalem. Although the unexpected arrival of this man with his burning question held Jesus back and prevented him from setting out on his planned journey, Jesus gave him his full attention. The present moment was all important to Jesus. What he had planned to do always took second place to the call that was made on him in the here and now. Jesus teaches us to take seriously the call of the present moment. This man who turned up out of nowhere made a call on Jesus, and Jesus responded, even though the call was unexpected and cut across what he had planned. The call of the present moment can take all kinds of unexpected forms for us, and, yet, it is there that the Lord very often meets us and we meet him.

The man made an unexpected call on Jesus, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus went on to make an unexpected call, on this man, ‘Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor… then follow me.’ There is no other person in Mark’s gospel who receives this particular call from Jesus. This was a call for this man. This was his call of the present moment. This is what the Lord was asking of him here and now. Jesus’ call on this man was as unexpected as this man’s call on Jesus. The man’s reaction to this call of Jesus shows how unexpected it was. Whereas he had run up to Jesus, breathless, with his burning question, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’, in response to Jesus’ answer to his question we are told that ‘his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.’ His excited running to Jesus gave way to his sad walk away from Jesus. The call of the present moment was too much for him to hear, and the fruit of his refusal to hear it was a sadness of heart, a heaviness of spirit. He was attached to his possessions; he couldn’t let go of them, even though letting go of them and throwing in his lot wholeheartedly with Jesus was his particular calling in life. In the words of today’s second reading, the call of Jesus, the words Jesus addressed to him, were alive and active, cutting into him like a two-edged sword.

If we approach the Lord, as the man in the gospel did, if we seek out the Lord and enter into a personal relationship with him, he will call out to us too. His particular call to us will probably not be the precise call the man in today’s gospel received. However, his call to us will have something in common with that man’s call. It will always be a call to give ourselves more fully to the Lord’s way, and to let go of whatever it is that is holding us back from living according to the values of the gospel that Jesus proclaimed and lived. His call to us will be a call to go and do whatever it is we need to do in order to walk in the Lord’s way more wholeheartedly. There will be moments when we will hear that call very strongly – perhaps when we are least expecting to hear it. If the particular call that the Lord is addressing to us seems daunting, we can find reassurance in the Lord’s words to his disciples in the gospel, ‘everything is possible for God.’ What we cannot do on our own, we can do with the Lord’s help. The Lord’s grace at work within us can empower us to live as he is calling us to live. [Martin Hogan]


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