28th Sunday Reflection: The Way Out of Discontent and Loneliness
The Way Out of Discontent and Loneliness – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – (Mark 10:17-27)
Getting a rope through the eye of a needle, nope, just can’t be done, even with perfect eyesight! Life is toil, and then we die! Our lives are filled with so many diversions, so many urgent things that require our attention.
Living from one pay-day 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, the Facebooks, and the Amazons that capture our identities into logarithms bully and cajole us into a frenzy of selfish desire and acquisition that lead to that ultimate selfishness, misery.
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. This is the destructive Babylon effect that infects our understanding of God, our relationships with each other, and with our world.
Jesus teaching about money and possessions is not some outdated and burdensome call to sacrificial living that leads to the victim mentality. 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’. In the way of St Bonaventure, It is by recognising creation that is good that 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. Here is no worldly philosophy or wisdom and thus, sometimes it is only our sister death that can bring us to this final unburdening. It is only then that we have anything of value 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. Grace that comes to us where we are, always leaves us somewhere else and changes everything.
But how are we to move into awareness that will change our discontent and loneliness into delight.
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 toil of another.
Many of us 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, pursue holiness, and 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 boxes, no, it is a gift from the Beloved.
This is difficult stuff. We don’t want to hear of gifts. Mimicking the first temptation, 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 afterward, otherwise, it’s off to bed with no supper!
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. Now he comes to recognise that the only way is to take the risk of leaving everything he thought was valuable and gave him an identity, and following another Way. 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, who is deserving, 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? Far too many 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. Instead, 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 them we can take as many as we want. We have faith in them, and so we go with them. When we have eaten the fruit, will we ask him for a reward because we followed them? We will thank them 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. Let the evidence speak.
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 is not some angry discipline but rather a call to set us free from the 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 always ‘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 the 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.