Sunday, October 11, 2015
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Not Easy to Enter Heaven
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Today's readings deal with seeking God above anything else and being detached from material wealth.
In the first reading, we are told how great wisdom is. Wisdom comes when we first fear the Lord or give the Lord the adulation and deference that He deserves (Proverbs 9:10). The riches of this world, the power of scepters, thrones or even the presidency mean nothing compared to the spirit of wisdom (Proverbs 11:28). In order for wisdom to come, we must pray and trust in God's providence (Philippians 4:19). God will fill us with love as we read in the Psalm for today.
God fills us with love. We in turn sing for joy. We must ask God to teach us how to "number our days aright" or plan our lives around Him. Man proposes and God disposes we often here (Proverbs 19:21). No matter how much we pretend to control our lives or freedom, it is God who has the final say (Jeremiah 29:11). This is why we must pray and ask God for mercy and kindness. He will bless us and let the work of our hands prosper.
In the second reading, we read of the importance of the word of God. It is "sharper than any two-edged sword." This word penetrates "between soul and spirit, joints and marrow" reaching to the heart. The word is Jesus, the Lord and Savior (John 1:1). This word comes to us in many ways; via the Sacraments, the Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Tradition, prayer, meditation, and when we help one another (Matthew 25:40). If we can put each of these ways to work for us and our schedules, our spiritual lives would grow immensely (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Lectio divina is a great way to put Sacred Scripture to work in our spiritual lives. This can be incorporated with mediation and our private prayers or even the divine office. The study of Sacred Tradition also increases our spiritual life. When we grow in the knowledge of our faith, our faith increases (Ephesians 4:13). The Sacraments complete the aforementioned because we receive the Word via them. They help us travel the narrow path to heaven which we will learn of in the Gospel.
In today's Gospel, a rich man comes to Jesus and asks, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus says something interesting, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." This line is often used by Muslims and other sects such as the Jehovah's Witnesses to "prove" that Jesus was not God. At first glance it seems to make sense. Jesus seems to imply that He is not God because He asks the man "Why do you call me good" and says that "no one is good but God alone." What are we to make of this? When Jesus asks "Why do you call me good," He is challenging the man to see what the man understands of God. If Jesus was not God and was correcting the man, He would have said, "I am not God, so I am not good." Instead, He asks the man just like He would ask the disciples "who do you say that I am? (Mark8:29)" The question is meant to challenge and bring about reflection.
Moreover, Jesus tells Him, "You know the commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother." The man answers that he has followed these since his youth. However, Jesus points out to him that he has failed to observe something else, He says, "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." The man's face dropped in disappointment and he left away sad because he was wealthy and had a lot of things. Jesus then tells the rest that it is hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. In fact, a camel can pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to reach heaven. Jesus used hyperbole to get His point across.
Those around Him became upset and asked, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus answers, "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God." This Gospel ties in with the first reading in that the word of God is more important than jewels, thrones and scepters. When Jesus says to "go and sell possessions" He is telling us not to be attached to material things. The man Jesus spoke to was a wealthy man and he felt he earned salvation just for following the commandments. We cannot be saved in this manner. Blindly following rules and commandments like a Deontologist or person who does things out of mere duty does not save unless we put them to genuine practice (1 Corinthians 13). Faith without works is a dead faith and saves no one (James 2:14-26). Having wealth and possessions is not an evil in itself, but it can become an evil if we solely live for them (1 Timothy 6:10). We must be ready to give them up whenever and not suffer because of that (1 Corinthians 7:31).
Many atheists criticize the Pope and overall clergy for having golden chalices, pectoral crosses, vestments and ornate buildings. While they have a point in that these things may be too extravagant, they do not understand that these men do not own these things. When bishops pass away, their rings, crosses, crosiers etc get passed on to future bishops. Similarly, religious habits are "recycled." Chalices and other items remain in the churches they are used in. Some are even given away to other churches who need them. As for being ornate, well this is our way of giving to God the best we can craft (Proverbs 3:9). Does God care whether we use gold, wood, glass, cotton or silk? Not at all, they belong to Him already (Haggai 2:8). However, each of these items can be used to show God how much He means to us. We craft them beautifully to show what we think of the glory of God. If we dress up nice for parties, to meet leaders, why not have nice things to worship God? Pope Francis has been trying to change the image of a "wealthy papacy" by using simpler things, but he has not gotten rid of them.
Each one of us should live simply and if we have wealth, we should remember that it is a blessing from God. God allows us to have it so we can use it for good; to help others and so forth. I know it is hard to do. We are raised by our nations and its cultures to believe that we have to work hard, save and live in a secure retirement. This creates an atmosphere of competition and greed. We forget that God is the one who controls all things (Mark 4:18-19). Each one of us can save a fortune and then die before we can enjoy it (Luke 12:15). This is why it makes sense to not be attached to it and trust in God's providence (Hebrews 13:5). What we do have, we should put it to good use and not store them up (1 Timothy 6:7-10). It is hard to give. I have learned this from the slow response to my fundraiser from Catholics and others who visit and use my content. Even our parishes suffer closings because we do not support them. No one likes to give without asking what it is going to be used for. We are often suspicious and rightfully so. So many people out there take advantage of our generosity; however, we must remember that it is the act of giving that pleases God. If the person we give to misuses what we gave, then he or she will be accountable to God for that. Similarly, we too will be held accountable if we do not help others with what we have whether great or little (Proverbs 21:13).
We can follow all the commandments, pray everyday but if we do not help and love others then all of that faith was in vain (James 1:22, Mark 4:24). It was never put into genuine practice via caring for others and being detached from material wealth. Not everyone who shouts 'Lord Lord' will be saved (Matthew 7:21). So let us focus on the word of God who is Jesus, follow His will which entails both loving God and neighbor. Let us give to others in need freely without question or concern trusting Jesus' words that we must help others without using a litmus test (Proverbs 11:24-25). God will reward you for helping others. May Jesus be praised forever!
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