Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Gospel passages read at Mass for the last few weeks have included some very real challenges for us, as well as a sense of urgency. To live according to the Gospel that Jesus preaches is no easy task. Nor is there any time to waste! In each of the Gospel passages we have reflected on over these weeks, we should note, in addition to the challenges our Lord places before us, the real longing of the human heart that echoes in the Gospel. For example, two weeks ago we heard Jesus telling the Apostles that if their hand caused them to sin, to cut it off. Before telling the Apostles to cut out of their lives whatever prevents them from living the Gospel, Jesus listens as they complain that someone else is casting out demons in His name. They are zealous for their Master and His authority. Though they misapply this zeal, Jesus recognizes in them a desire to do God’s will. Last week, the Gospel ended with people bringing children to Jesus and His beautiful response: “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them.” Those people bringing children to the Lord were responding to that profound human longing for union with God, and in the person of Jesus Christ, we see His loving response.
And so this weekend we see the rich young man approach Jesus to ask what must be done in order to go to heaven. The answer begins simply enough: follow the commandments. Mark tells us that as the young man responds, Jesus looks at him and loves him, then invites him to be a disciple. The young man is sincere in his desire for union with God. Seeing this sincerity, Jesus meets the gaze of the man and extends an invitation. Unlike the Apostles, who when called, immediately left everything and followed Him, the young man walks away from Jesus in sadness, unable to part with his possessions. The Apostles see this and begin to wonder what will happen to them. The Lord assures them of a heavenly reward, all the while holding fast to the command to sell off possessions, give to the poor, and follow Him.
Consistently, the Gospel of Mark is reminding us of the human desire for relationship with God. Created in the image and likeness of God, mankind always seeks union with Him and holds that union as the deepest desire of the heart, even when we are unaware of that profound longing. Mark’s Gospel also gives us insight into the obstacles to this desire. Sin (which needs to be cut off) prevents us from being united with God. Selfishness (exhibited by the disciples who try to keep Jesus all to themselves and do not want the children nearby) turns us in on ourselves and deprives us of that outward facing posture that allows us to look on the face of God. And today we see that possessions and the desire to hold on to material wealth and objects can become the stumbling block that leaves us empty and sad. How can we respond to these challenges in our own lives?
We ought first to recognize that we desire a relationship with God. Even if we have not paid much attention to it before, there is something that draws us back to Mass week after week, something that ignites prayer in our heart. We want God! We ought then to recognize the obstacles in our way, especially those of our own making. We sin, holding on to habits and behaviors that we know are contrary to God’s plan. We live in the hardness of heart that leads us to look to our own desires and not to God’s divine law. We cling to positions, possessions, and those things that make us feel secure. Through it all, there is a stubborn, persistent desire crying out from our hearts, begging for God’s love and grace. It is this persistent cry that Jesus responds to with His grace and with His teachings. This is why He teaches us to cut out of our lives that which leads us to sin. To eliminate sin and the causes of sin is one of the most necessary steps to fulfilling the desire for the divine. This is why He teaches us to let go of the hardness of our hearts that selfishly tries to hoard grace for ourselves and instead to let the children come to Him, for when we give others access to God’s grace, we are reminded of our own profound need for mercy. This is why He teaches us today that we must be free of attachments to the things of this earth, for when we accumulate possession upon possession, we build up a wall of separation between ourselves and God.
All these challenges laid before us would seem too great for our abilities, except for one great truth. Following Christ carries with it the promise of eternal reward. There is no sinful habit or inclination that makes us happy in this temporal order, let alone for eternity. There is no selfish act or attitude that offers lasting peace. There is no object, no amount of money on earth, that satisfies the human soul’s deep desire for God. But, should we root sin out of our lives, open our hearts to the grace of God and rely on His love and mercy in all things rather than on our own devices, we find in Jesus’ teaching the great promise – eternal treasure, peace, and life. For the sake of the promise of what lies ahead, for the sake of a heavenly reward itself, for the plain truth that no thing on this earth will satisfy our desire for God, let us be animated to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, to embrace the challenges, and to feed that great desire to be united with God for all eternity.