Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday word, 14 Oct 2012

Hard Blessing
28th Sunday of the Year B (14 Oct 2012)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
As he made his way with his disciples to Jerusalem and his cross, Jesus met a man who had many possessions. He eagerly sought Jesus’ counsel and was disappointed. His disappointment provoked the disciples to ask Jesus, “Who can be saved?” As was his custom, Jesus made the occasion a lesson for his disciples—and us.

The question of the man, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” may seem to search for a formula for living. His question touched convictions about God, convictions Jesus laid bare in his reply to the man: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Jesus’ answer confuses us because we confuse doing good with the Source of all that is good. God’s goodness exceeds and even excludes human boasting we are good. God’s goodness excludes human needs to impress on others our real or artificial goodness. To the man and to us today, Jesus began his answer that God is the source of goodness.

By doing whatever is good we ally and join ourselves with the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. By doing good we put ourselves on God’s side; we don’t manipulate God to our sides. We place ourselves on God’s side when we respond to the commands God gave us to inherit God’s life. Jesus reply to the man’s question rehearsed the commandments having to do with human relations with each another. You and I inherit God’s life by how we live with and for one another!

I think we get that like the man did. It’s the rest of Jesus’ answer that comes less easily: ex-change treasure of earth for treasure of heaven. The matter is not simply one of having nothing; rather it is drawing closer and closer to the Source of goodness, life, love and generosity. Our Source, of course, is God. Our tradition considers God so alive and powerful that God speaks and creation comes into existence. Unlike us who exert efforts of all kinds, God’s word has power beyond our imaging: God spoke and things became, things happened.1 The Letter to the Hebrews refreshed our memory of our tradition: the word of God is living and effective. Scripture announces God is the living God several times.2 Scripture also allows us to hear God’s voice announce, “As I live, says the Lord,” through Moses,3 prophets and the Psalmist.4 Our living God is faithful to all creation and desires us to share in God’s life. This good news the entire Letter to the Hebrews offers.

God’s word is creative power and prophetic, spirited message. God’s word became for us in our time the person, Messiah Jesus. Divine power became present in his human person, and he abides by his Holy Spirit. Many recognized God present in Jesus. The man in the gospel noticed and ran to him. Because Jesus abides with us by his Spirit, Pope Benedict invited us to enter this Year of Faith so we may run to Jesus, “‘towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.’”5

Activities for the Year of Faith will help us do that. Yet daily each of us comes closer to Jesus when we practice goodness, respect, love and generosity. Doing them brings us nearer to him and forms us as his disciples. Yet, to follow Jesus, to be his disciples, does not make us good. Oh, that it were that easy; but it’s not. In practice possessions are risks to promoting goodness, respect, love and generosity. How? When possessions grip us and manage us. Jesus said we are to manage possessions not be managed by them. To the man Jesus put it this way: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

His lesson to surrender wealth is a hard blessing for us. Surrender of wealth does not mean throwing our wealth on the junk heap. Surrender of wealth by giving first place to respect, love, generosity, concern for others and care for them gradually yet really discloses God’s power: all things, including our entering God’s realm of life, are possible with God!  One verse early and one late in this gospel selection make that point. Read together they make sharing God’s life nothing short of miraculous. Read together they tame human ambition so we can hear Jesus encourage us. The verses are: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? ...For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God!” Keeping them together in our minds and hearts helps us not overreach ourselves or substitute our ambition for God’s compassionate power. Instead, they help us release the gospel into our lives and the world and not tame it or try to fashion it to our liking.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in the Trinity who creates you and gives you creation to make a return of love to our God more easily.
  • Ask the disciples, who listened often to Jesus, to present you to him.
  • In your words: praise and thank Jesus for drawing you into his friendship.
  • Ask Jesus to help you continue to be his disciple more in fact than in name.
  • Close by saying slowly the prayer Jesus taught us. It teaches us to show to others the compassion Jesus works in us.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. See Genesis 1.
  2. A search of the RSV.
  3. Numbers 14.21, 28.
  4. A search of the KJV; it appears to follow closely the Greek translation the writers of the NT used.
  5. His Apostolic Letter announcing the Year of Faith, “Door of Faith,” 2.
Wiki-image by Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum of the man going away sad is in the public domain in the U.S. Wiki-image of Works of Mercy Building is in the public domain (see individual reliefs here).

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