28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I Wisdom 7:7-11
Reading II Hebrews 4:12-13
Gospel Mark 10:17-30
The young man in the Gospel today asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life? What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
This might be a question we have asked ourselves many times, “What do I need to do to get to heaven?” If we listen to Jesus’s response to the young man he said, “Follow the commandments.” Then Jesus recited the commandments. If you can picture that young man — he was so happy and elated and said, “I’m good. I’ve done all those things.”
Then Jesus looked at the young man and said, “There is one more thing you need to do. Go sell everything you have, give to the poor, and then come and follow me.” The young man, with his face looking down, walked away sadly.
Jesus then said to the disciples, “It’s very hard for a rich man to get to heaven. It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to get to heaven.” But we need to remember that the eye of a needle is not the needle and thread we normally think about. What we think he was talking about: In the old days at night they had a special gate and it was called the “eye of the needle.” It was a very narrow gate and was very winding and hard to get into. For a camel to go through it was almost impossible because a camel was so large, and if there was any baggage on the camel’s back, it was totally impossible.
The disciples heard what he said and they said to themselves, “This doesn’t make sense.” They believed that if you were wealthy and had good health then you were doing everything right and pleasing God. And if you were poor and had bad health then you had done something wrong, or your parents had done something wrong. Jesus said to them, “That isn’t the way it works. That isn’t the way it works at all.” The apostles then asked, “How can anyone get to heaven?” And Jesus answered, “It’s through the power of God that any and all of us have the opportunity to get into heaven.”
I want to tell you a story. It took place in Africa a number of years ago. At that time the traders would try to capture monkeys and sell them, and the monkeys would be used for different things. What they would do to capture a monkey is: They would take a coconut, cut it in half, take all the coconut out so that it was hollow inside. Then on one side they would make a hole, only big enough for the monkey to put his hand through. Then they would find the most luscious orange they could find and place it in the coconut, attach the coconut to a rope and hang it from a tree. Then the hunters would go in the bushes and wait for a monkey to come. Sure enough, a monkey would come and put his hand in the coconut and grab the orange.
The only problem was — the orange was bigger than the hole and therefore as hard as the monkey tried, he couldn’t get the orange out of the coconut. He would try and try and get frustrated but he could not get the orange our of the coconut — but he would continue on. Finally, when the hunters saw that he was getting tired, they would come up and throw the net over the monkey and capture him.
If you think about it: All the monkey had to do was ignore the orange and pull his hand out of the coconut. But because of his greed and wanting that orange so very much, he couldn’t think about doing anything else. He just continued to do the same thing to the point where he gave up his freedom and was captured.
Why do I tell you this story? I tell you this story because in this world we all have a big opening and we are going to put our hand in the coconut. It may not be wanting an orange, but it may be a golf game, or going to an auction, or sewing or an addiction of some sort whether it be drinking or pornography or drugs. We all tend to have the pleasure of what we want, not realizing that it is really capturing us. It’s really keeping us from being free, and just like the monkey — it’s hard to give up that orange for freedom.
What we are being asked today is to seek wisdom. In the first reading today from the Book of Wisdom, it is lauding how wisdom is such a great thing, and that wisdom is the ability to discern what’s out there and to make the right choice. It’s the ability to know there are some choices we can change, and some things that we cannot change. Wisdom also tells us we have the ability to actually make the change.
Like that rich man, Jesus is not asking us to give up everything we own and go out and become a sister, a priest or a cloistered person — although God calls some people to do just that — but he is not calling all of us for those vocations. What he is calling us to do is to look at our life and ask, “Am I keeping the most important things important in my life?” There is nothing wrong with golf, or going to an auction, or having a drink — but too much of that can create dysfunction in any family. It can create dysfunction anywhere.
So we are asking today, “What are those oranges in our lives that keep us from being closer to our spouse? What are those oranges in our lives that keep us from being the complete family that we need to be? What are those things in our life that keep us from being generous? Because when we keep those oranges we are being selfish. Again, there is nothing wrong with golf or auctions or any of those things as long as we have moderation and balance within our lives and, keep the two great commandments of loving God and loving neighbor.
So what is wisdom? It is for us to look at ourselves and ask, “Are we being the best that we can be? Where are the areas — and we all have them — where are those areas in our lives when we are selfish and know that we can change, even if it is only a little amount, to make life better?”
This morning Josephine was brought here with Mom and Dad, godparents and friends to be baptized. Why? Because they love Josephine and they want to give her everything she needs in the world to come. They bring her to this church today out of love, and give her the greatest gift parents can ever give a child — and that is for her to become a child of God. It is up to her parents, her godparents and the whole faith community to make sure she sees the light of Christ. And how will Josephine see the light of Christ — through each one of us. Because if we live out our baptism — then we are the hands and feet of Christ and we are making a difference in this world. So as the young man asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Well, you must remember that God has given us the ability to make wise and good choices and, he has given us the ability to change if only we will think about it, and do it.
We need to remember, as we heard in the second reading, that God knows what we think, what we say and what we do. We need to remember that all things are possible with God. One of the weaknesses we have in our world is that we do not give God enough credit and do not go to him when we have problems — because God can do anything and Scripture says, “All things are possible through Christ who strengthens us.”
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Terry Ellerman is a retired educator and serves as a deacon at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Quincy, Illinois.
(TASCAM DR 40 file 0014)