To read the texts click on the texts: Wis 7:7-11; Heb 4:12-13; Mk10:17-30
Today, more than ever before, it is being brought to our attention what greed and a desire for more can do, not only to us, as humans, but also, to our environment. Global warming, changing weather conditions, the melting of glaciers, intermittent rain, lack of water and other basic necessities in so many parts of the world, the growing number of those who go to bed hungry every day, are only some of the consequences of the greed of a few. Even today, when some have more than they will ever need, others are struggling to get even the little that they require to live. The excess consumption of some deprives others of the resources they need just to survive. The disparity between the rich and the poor is growing larger with each passing day. Our world seems to be closing in on itself. The readings of today address these issues.
In the Gospel text of today, Jesus offers a challenge, not only to the rich man, but to each of us as well.
To be sure, the rich man has obeyed all the commandments. He has kept the law. It is precisely because he has kept the law to such perfection that Jesus issues the challenge. Surely, a man who has been so true and so faithful will rise to the greater challenge. Surely, a man who has been so observant of what the law requires him to do will dare to go further. Surely, a man so close to God will walk that extra mile. Sadly, however, this does not turn out to be the case. The rich man cannot make the leap of faith. He cannot give up what is required to be given up by him. It is not so much that he possesses riches but rather, that riches possess him. It is not that he owns things but rather, that things own him. Because things own him and riches possess him, they will not let him be free to make a decision. Things obstruct his hearing, and his vision. Things will not let him see, or hear, or act.
This problem is at the root of what is happening in our world today. There are so many of us who are controlled by things. So many of us have let our riches control us and have power over us. We have given in to selfishness and self-centeredness to such an extent that we are not able to see beyond our noses. Each one of us, in his or her own way, is responsible for setting himself or herself on a destructive path.
There is one prime reason why the possessions of the rich man control him, and why we have set ourselves on a similar path of self destruction. The reason is because, while he and some of us possess external riches, he, and we, do not possess the most valuable of all riches: wisdom. Solomon realized this well which is why, in the first reading of today, he prayed to God, not for external riches, but for one gift and one gift alone: the gift of wisdom. He did not selfishly ask for riches, or honour, or glory. He did not selfishly ask for things to satisfy only momentarily. He did not selfishly ask to satisfy his own desires. Solomon understood, unlike the rich man, and unlike us, that wisdom is superior to all riches. It is superior to power, superior to precious stones, superior to even health, beauty, and light. This wisdom made Solomon realize his own finitude and so, his identity with the rest of the human race. It also led him to a desire not to close in on himself but to keep hoping, searching, and reaching out. It led him to pray and to call out to God, not in desperation, but with confidence and courage.
This he does because he knows that God’s word is, as the letter to the Hebrews points out, a two edged sword. It is this word which knows the thoughts and innermost desires of each one of us. It is this word that will call each of us to account for our every word and action. It is this word that questions and challenges us. It is this word to which we must answer.
The answer that we give to this word, which is alive and active, will depend on our response to the challenge which Jesus poses to us through the Gospel of today: “sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” What are we being called to in such a summons? How do we respond?
Different people respond in different ways. Francis of Assisi and Ignatius of Loyola interpreted these words literally and so, divested themselves of every form of external riches and also the internal riches of the ego and the self. Environmentalists respond by making people aware of the dangers of the degradation of the environment and the ill effects of such acts on the whole of humanity. Social workers respond by making the poor aware of their rights and giving them the courage to fight for them. Even if most of us are not called to such radical sacrifice, what we are called to is a reflection on our life style. Has the consumer culture of the world taken such hold of us that we, too, like the rich man, are possessed by things? Have we converted our wants into our needs? Is our excess consumption responsible, in some way, for the fact that others have less? Will we dare to give up, and to follow?