Theme: Prosperity as an opportunity or obstacle
Today’s liturgy will assist us analyze that once we are well convinced then no obstacles can stop us from archiving what is good. The obstacles can be riches, relatives, illness, finances, hatred, just name them. In fact if you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it or work around it. Today’s readings encourage us to stay focused.
First reading: Wisdom 7:7-11
Ala’ Ad-Din is an Arabic title of one of the best known stories in The Thousand and One Nights where the chief protagonist Ala’ Ad-Din chances upon a wise man claiming to grant fortune. At the wise man’s order, Aladdin retrieves a magic lamp from a cave and discovers that it can summon up powerful forces to do his bidding. Your wish is my command, Aladdin is told and he satisfies his desires for wealth, power and long life. Aladdin’s good fortune has left many people dreaming of sharing a similar experience. Imagine that you are Aladdin and that magic lamps and forces do exist, what would you ask for? Solomon found himself in a similar situation, though magic did not factor into the equation. According to the book of 1Kings Solomon was told by Yahweh in a dream: “Ask something of me and I will give it to you” 1 Kings 3:5-14. Solomon asked for wisdom and he was granted since he did not ask for long life or victory over his enemies. When given wisdom, the rest simply follows. We need to stay sharp when placing requests before God.
Purported to be part of Solomon’s petition before God, this text is actually an excerpt from a longer soliloquy in praise of Wisdom. Identifying himself with King Solomon, who ruled Israel in the tenth century B.C; this visionary describes his quest for wisdom as a search for a treasure more valuable than any found in a king’s coffer. He invites his contemporaries to seek for wisdom so as to preserve their traditions and heritage instead of being lost in uselessness. Wisdom is a natural concept associated with those skilled at fashioning and tailoring vestments cf. Exodus 28:3; carpenters plying their trade with precision cf. Exodus 31:3; sailors who travel the seas cf. Psalm 107:27; dirge singers who entertain at funerals cf. Jeremiah 9:17 as well as in the silver-haired old woman who advises Joab on military strategy in 2Samuel 20:16. Wisdom grants us ability to cope well with life and to observe proper ethical conduct cf. Proverbs 2:9-11. Wisdom loves humankind and dwells among them, making them friends of God. Present with God at creation, Wisdom directs the course of the world cf. Wisdom 9:9. Since me and you hold a unique position in all that is created; we are being requested to dare to be wise at all costs.
Second reading: Hebrews 4:12-13
There are those who believe that a word is dead when it is said; I say it just begins to live from the day it is said. Such a conviction of the power of the word can be taken as foundation for us to understand the word of God as reflected in this short periscope today. Among the keepers of the old covenant, words were considered as viable entities. Once spoken, words had an independent existence; more than mere sounds/symbols for things, words had power. For instance blessings once uttered could not be revoked; unfortunately, neither could curses. A Hebrew proverb says: ‘a word is like milk, which, being once drawn from its original source can never be returned again.’ If human words could be so characterized, how much more so the word of God!
The letter to Hebrews asserts that the word of God is living; unlike any other words before, God’s word lives to speak to all people for all time. This word has power to penetrate the soul, spirit, joints and marrow. Like a double-edge sword, it has the dual capacity of: 1- revealing God to the believer and 2- revealing the believer to him/herself. In the Word everything is drawn into the light. There is nothing in our spiritual, intellectual, physical or emotional existence which is not known to God. Before God all is tetrachelismenos, meaning, laid bare and compelled to meet God’s eyes. Tetrachelismenos carries a triple connotation: a) it described the way a wrestler seizes an opponent in such a way that one cannot escape; b) it is a culinary term used for the flaying of animals; c) It is a ploy to force a criminal face the public accepting dishonor of the onlookers. When used in association with the word of God, tetrachelismenos exposes who we are and lays bare what we would hide to the light of its truth. While the prospects of such an encounter with the word may seem intimidating, we are assured that it is also loving, forgiving and life-giving.
Gospel: Mark 10:17-30
Today’s gospel features a young and gifted man who was challenged to overcome an obstacle which many of us would like to be burdened, viz., riches. Unfortunately, the young man was not up to the invitation Jesus extended to him. His riches stood between him and his share in everlasting life. Whether or not he eventually overcame his attachment to his wealth and opted to follow Jesus is not ours to know. Suffice it to say, the rich man’s experience, and others like that, should cause us to consider what stands between us and God.
Incidentally this rich young man had been lucky to encounter Jesus who in turn had looked at him with a heart of admiration; but when he is challenged to go further than the basic requisites of the law, attachment to materialism stands between him and a unique opportunity of grabbing everlasting life instantly. He hears, he listens and yet his face falls making him go away sad. How many times a day does such an encounter occur to most of us and alas we simply ignore it. We forget that to be rich means to share with the needy that need our support. A rich person who is unable to share is to be pitied because incidentally that makes him/her miserably poor. Today’s gospel with its three pronouncement stories on renunciation in Mark 10:17-22, on the pitfalls of riches in Mark 10:23-27 and on the cost and rewards of discipleship in Mark 10: 28-30 present us with a triplet Christian summery on the proper attitude to portray toward wealth.
Whatever we have worked for to the point of being counted among the few who are blessed should assist us to stay committed Christian disciples. The fact that the man could say “I have kept all these since my childhood” Mark 10:20 and yet was still searching affirms the inadequacy of the laws which travel without generosity. Jesus challenges us through this person never to forget the poor beginning with ourselves. The advice “go and sell what you have and give to the poor” Mark 10:21 teaches us that faith goes beyond the norms of legality. At the end of life it is love that wins all human desires. We can consider ourselves lucky only when we allow nothing to stand between us and God; if not we follow the rich young man who “went away sad” Mark 10:21. When we choose to stay in Jesus’ company, special instructions are given to us only when we take the initiative to ask “What must I do?” Mark 10:17. Jesus is ready to save us only when we are free to collaborate with God-given and grace-filled realities surrounding us. As human beings on our own “it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible” Mark 10:27. Even something as seemingly improbable and impossible as a camel passing through a needle’s eye falls with the range of possibilities for those who rely on God. In exploring this strange figure of speech, the needle refers to a short narrow gate out of the city or temple precincts, through which a camel might be able to pass tactically when the danger of staying inside is a death sentence. With great effort, the Carmel is able to escape to safety with a good load of treasures. In either case, the best treasure entrusted to us happens to be our life; Jesus alerts us to deal with it carefully and conscientiously since it has no known substitute.
Not all is lost after all; the final section of this gospel Jesus enumerates the rewards for those who have not allowed anything such as riches, home, property, father, mother, brothers, sisters and children to stand between them and God and who have made the kingdom their first priority. These are the ones who will be well compensated with unquantifiable blessings, such as, family, friends and fellow disciples a hundredfold in addition everlasting life. Nevertheless, these blessings do not obviate the very real and harsh reality of the cross. The phrase “and persecution besides” Mark 10:30 reminds us that suffering is a concomitant aspect of discipleship. This assures us that good life is possible only for those willing to risk.
We need to be wise if we want the rest to be a sure deal. We have to be a people that keep our word. It is only when we are willing to give that we receive even eternal life.