28th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Oct. 14
Wis 7:7-11, Heb 4:12-13, Mk 10:17-30
Today’s reading from Wisdom is mind-blowing — that’s the only way I can describe it.
It sounds like a lover writing a love note about his sweetheart: “I preferred her … and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her … because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and, before her, silver is to be accounted mire” (or mud!).
The author is in love with God, God’s ways, God’s wisdom, God’s kingdom, whatever you wish to call it. Were you ever so in love that nothing in the world compared with your feelings for the other?
The Gospel also speaks of love, but in more prosaic language. A young man ran to Jesus, bowed before him and asked what he had to do to please God more, to truly live according to God’s will. The young man’s heart is in the right place, Jesus observes.
After testing his resolve, Jesus acknowledges the sincerity of the young man and loves him. That’s what the text says: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him. …”
Then Jesus challenged what he saw and heard. He told the seeker that he lacked only one thing; he had to divest himself of his comfortable existence and come follow Jesus. “At that statement, his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” As eager as the man was, he wasn’t that eager.
Love is always tested. Sometimes, married folk know this better than anyone. It’s tested by reality, by living together, by familiarity, by outlooks, by habits. It’s tested by success and by failure, by disaster and by mediocrity, by others and by oneself.
As I read the second reading from Hebrews today, I thought we could momentarily substitute the word “love” for “the word of God.”
“Indeed, the word of God (love) is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.”
That is true of God’s love for us, but how true is it when applied to our love of God?
In the Gospel reading, after the young man walks away, and after Jesus comments further on how difficult it is for people who hold on to their “wealth” to get the message, Peter and the apostles remind Jesus that “we have given up everything and followed you.” On one level, their statement is true, but obviously the Twelve are still counting their savings. They want to know what’s in it for them.
Jesus says that whatever they have given up, house, family, lands, they’ll get back. He must have been smiling at the time, for he then put in a kicker they may or may not have heard: “… with persecutions — and eternal life in the age to come.”
Jesus understood the price of true love. Both the high cost and the eternal reward. The day would come when he himself would be willing to go all the way with his love.
Today’s Scriptures are pure gold — one more instance of God’s gift to all of us.
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Oct. 21
Is 53:10-11, Heb 4:14-16, Mk 10:35-45
For me, one of the most encouraging passages in all of Scripture is from the Letter to the Hebrews and is read as the second reading today.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.”
Put in a positive mode: We have a high priest who is able to sympathize with us, one who also was tested in every way and yet never sinned. That’s Jesus Christ whom Hebrews is talking about.
I can’t tell you how many times I have thought of that passage and quoted from it. I repeat it in confession often to the penitents. I want them to know that Jesus really does understand us — from experience.
He knows our trials and temptations, our failures and our successes, our hopes and our despair. And still he loves us with an unconditional love that can be attributable only to God.
A young man shared with me recently an insight he had about his life. He had been concentrating so hard on his past life and his self-reported misdeeds that he was totally ignoring the mercy of God, and that God wanted him to go forward forgiven.
So many people cannot forgive themselves for their sinfulness. They can accept the above passage from Hebrews, but they just don’t apply it to themselves.
God forgives everything but our failure to trust the Spirit and our failure to ask for forgiveness. God cannot give grace when we refuse to accept it. Our stubbornness handcuffs God, in a manner of speaking.
Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot were both serious sinners; they both turned on Jesus at his time of greatest need. Peter repented and accepted Jesus’ forgiveness. Judas, for whatever reason, disappeared off the screen unforgiven.
If we seek other instances of Jesus’ ongoing patience with the faults of his friends, we need only listen to today’s Gospel story. The brothers, James and John, are asking for special treatment from Jesus. They are not including the other 10 apostles in their plans.
Their action stirs up the pot and angers everyone involved — except Jesus. He calls the group together and patiently goes over the basics of discipleship once more. It isn’t about who holds the top spot; it is about being a servant — even a slave — to all.
That’s not an acceptable philosophy in today’s world or in our competitive culture. For too many moderns, Jesus is speaking from weakness. The fact is that he is not weak, but he does understand weakness.
And he understands that we are strongest when we put ourselves at the service of others. When we die to ourselves, we can live freely and openly.
Ah, the paradox that continues to haunt us: To really live, we have to die to self. Help us out on that, Lord.
O’Malley is a faculty member of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, former vicar for priests and pastor emeritus of St. Celestine Parish.