Twenty-Eighth Sunday of the Year Reflection
Life is toil, and then we die! We recognise that our lives are filled so many diversions, so many urgent things that require my attention. Living from one pay check to the next we spend our energy, time and money acquiring and caring for our possessions. The great powers and sovereignties of this world, the Googles, Facebooks and the Amazons that capture our identities into logarithms that will bully and cajole us into a frenzy of selfish desire and acquisition.
These are the riches that divert us and blind us to awareness of the present moment; these are the riches that poison our relationships into a system of horse trading.
Jesus teaching about money and possessions is not some outdated and burdensome call to sacrificial living. Jesus is calling us to ever closer union with the source of all that is, the source of love.
The Lover delights in the delight of the beloved. The Source of Love takes delight in our delight. This is not some angry and distant deity that seeks obedience to some arbitrary ordinances and law. This is God wants us to have life and life to the full. God who desires that we take delight in creation as God also takes delight in “what is good”. It is by recognising the creation that is good but we can come to recognise the creator; come also to recognise ourselves in the image.
First, we move to the centre of our being, finding that core of the divine within us that resonates with the divine beyond space and time. Touching the eternal transcendent we come face-to-face with Truth that dissolves our illusions. It is only then that we have anything to say to the world. It is only then that we are truly awake and aware. It is only then that we can see all our diversions for what they truly are. That moment of encounter with the transcendent comes to us in moments of awe; that encounter with a new-born child; that encounter of first love and that final moment of encounter with death. These are all moments of encounter that touch our soul.
But how are we to move into awareness that will change our discontent and loneliness into delight.
We Receive Inheritance As A Free Gift
A young man approaches Jesus and asked “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Already we are given a clue; the gospel does not say to earn, or merit, or have a right to, but to inherit eternal life. Inheritance is not something we earn, nor can it be received as a reward, or as a kind of salary. It is a free gift, the fruit of the toils of others.
Many of us who will have sympathy with the sorrow of the rich young man who goes away from Jesus. Deep in our hearts we do know what it would take for us to build the kingdom of God, to pursue holiness, and to create a culture of love.
But there are always so many other commitments, so many urgent things to be done first; there is the comfort of things staying the same; the fear so much disturbance would break the practices of a lifetime, and the fear that one might just be thought of as crazy. Eternal life is not a reward for good deeds, following the rules and ticking all the right boxers, no, it is a gift from our Father.
There is something deep within us that really does not like to hear this. We don’t want to hear of gifts. We intend to earn the “promised land” through our own efforts, convinced as we are that if we don’t earn salvation through our own good deeds then we deserve to be punished. If you are good and eat the spinach, you can have pudding afterwards otherwise it’s off to bed with no supper!
It’s Not a List of Do’s and Don’ts
The rich young man is a good example of the one who wants to enter into a deeper spiritual life of union the easy way; by drawing up a list of commandments – things to do and things to avoid – but eventually learns that the only way is to take the risk of leaving everything and following one’s Lord. The type of thinking that eternal life can be earned misinterprets the gospel and changes the good news into something else. God does not follow our advice as to who is holy or who deserves what.
But if salvation is a free gift from God, why does Jesus ask the rich man to observe the commandments? Do our good deeds earn us merits for paradise? If the inheritance is going to be given to all anyway why be good? Many Christians see the Commandments as a kind of test, an examination that the Lord gives to people to see if they are obedient or not.
The law of God is not a test. It points the way to our happiness.
A friend tells us that in his garden they have fruits of all kinds: bananas, mangoes, avocado pears. If we follow him we can take as many as we want. We have faith in him, and so we go with him and do as he suggested. When we have eaten the fruit, will we ask him for a reward because we followed him? We will thank him and that’s all.
The commandments of the Lord show us the road we must follow. The person who keeps them does not deserve a prize. They will thank the Lord for having shown them the way to true life. What about those who go along the wrong road? They often ruin their own lives and the lives of others. But don’t they just seem to be enjoying themselves on that road?
We all like to believe that the new car, new wife, new house, new gadget, next promotion or the next holiday is going to make me happy, give me contentment, and fill me with joy. Look at the reality! It is truly possible to gain all the things we set our hearts on, only to wake up suddenly and discover that we have missed the most important things of all. To get to the top of the ladder and find it was resting against the wrong wall.
Of what value are those expensive temptations to mend a broken heart when a loved one is lost, when illness comes, or cheer a lonely person; can they replace the broken family, the lost friendship?
Jesus teaching today is not some angry discipline but rather a call to set us free from the wealth and possessions that keep our hearts trapped so that we cannot encounter blessedness; cannot encounter delight. By owning less we are less likely to be entrapped in the treadmill of desiring “more”. It is in this freedom that we can come to live lives of contentment and gratitude. It is in this freedom that we come to awareness of the poverty that has been created around us.
It is also in this freedom that we can truly announce the good news to the nations.
May the Lord grant you peace!