Wis 7:7-11; Heb 4:12-13; Mk 10:17-30
THE WISDOM OF GOD
Today’s reflection takes its inspiration from the First Reading, coming from the Book of Wisdom. You may recall that when Solomon was made King of Israel, there is a story recorded in I Kings to the effect that the night before he took over the throne, God came to Solomon in a dream and offered him any gift that he would select. The story relates that Solomon chose the gift of wisdom, rather than riches or a long life or other gifts considered desirable. He wanted to have wisdom so that he could rule his kingdom well and justly. Today’s first reading, from the book of Wisdom, is based on that story. It is a kind of reminiscence of what Solomon might have said. In the text, Solomon is speaking and he says that while he chose wisdom, all the other gifts were really given to him as well. “All good things together” he says “came to me in her company (i.e. in the company of wisdom, often referred to as a lady.) and countless riches at her hands.” As it were, Solomon was offered gold; instead he chose a gold mine; because when you have wisdom, all other gifts come easily.
In the gospel we have the opposite story. It is the story of a young man who seems to have everything that money can buy, YET HE KNEW HIS SOUL WAS LACKING SOMETHING. St. Mark in today’s gospel does not tell us much about this person but the three Synoptic Gospels coincide in saying that this was a rich man. St. Luke says that he was an important man and St. Matthew says that he was a young man. It is clear that this man had it all. He was young, successful, and had lots of money. But there was still a nagging need in his life. Jesus, in all wisdom, offers him a gold mine, but he chooses gold instead. He was offered the opportunity, the gift of becoming a follower of Jesus, if he would only dispose of his money. That was too much to ask and with sadness he left the company of Christ.
- JESUS DOES NOT CONDEMN RICHES
“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mk 10:25). It baffled the disciples of Jesus that he made this extraordinary demand of the wealthy man in today’s Gospel. After all, he, the Teacher, stayed often in the large comfortable home of Martha and Mary outside Jerusalem. He never asked them to sell the mansion and share the money with the poor of Jerusalem. He never asked the apostles to sell their costly fishing boats. We know he sailed in those boats often for business and pleasure. The record shows Jesus enjoyed parties, took delight in five star meals, and drank luxurious wine in homes where he was invited for meals. He obviously enjoyed the good life whenever it came his way. Why, then, does Jesus condemn wealth so vehemently? Jesus tackled the issue of wealth for certain obvious reasons.
- It takes much time and effort to acquire possessions. It even takes more time to care for them. It further requires time to protect them and to enjoy them. This fact establishes a kind of competition between one’s attention to God and one’s concern for the management of one’s earthly affairs. This matter receives much more attention in Luke’s gospel. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19ff) is a good example of his concern about the way in which possessions tend to blind a person to the lasting values in life. Nowhere in this parable is there any suggestion that the rich man had acquired his wealth immorally. He is condemned simply because his preoccupation with his possessions had blinded him to the fact that Lazarus was in his backyard begging for food.
- b) Jesus is not condemning those who are affluent and comfortable. He is reproaching the way they use their resources. His reproach is on those who selfishly accumulate wealth without thinking of the less fortunate. The Christian ideal is not poverty, hunger or misery; it is the fraternal sharing of all goods that God had made for all. Here is a write-up by an Author Unknown describing what Jesus is condemning: “I was hungry and you formed a humanities club to discuss my hunger. I was imprisoned and you crept off to pray for my release. I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance. I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health. I was homeless and you preached to me of the love of God. I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me. You seem so holy, so close to God. But I am still very hungry and lonely and cold.” Affluence makes one insensitive to the needs of others.
- c) The amount of one’s possessions is not nearly as dangerous as is the degree of one’s attachment to them. To be liberated from the drugging influence of possessions is to be ready to put the needs of others before one’s own comfort and convenience. The kingdom of heaven will be hard for everyone, rich or poor, because attachment to possessions is not just a problem for the wealthy. The challenge therefore does not come from the size of one’s bank account but rather from the degree of one’s attention to God and of one’s generosity in living the challenge presented by Jesus.
- THE DANGERS OF WEALTH/MONEY
The first part of the gospel ends with the young man preferring to keep his wealth. The thought of being so dependent on the Lord was unbearable for him. Yet he remained a ‘just man’, honest and religious as he was before, but he did not become a close follower of Jesus. In the second part of the gospel (Mk 10:23-27), Jesus takes up a reflection on the dangers of wealth. “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mk 10:23) Further, he said “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Human life involves the making of many choices. In spite of the attractiveness of nearly everything that God created, one cannot have everything. Choosing things means renouncing others. Jesus asks the rich young (and through him, he ask us also) to make a choice to follow him, giving up all wealth, or to keep the wealth and lose him. What is it that holds us back from loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength?
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus calls wealth “MONEY”. Wealth or money is not a problem in itself. In fact, MONEY IS NOT EVIL. But as said earlier, the LOVE of (wealth) money can be evil. Putting one’s trust in money is evil because it becomes the driving force of its owner’s life. If we go back to the First Commandment of God: “You shall have no God’s before me”, we would realize where Jesus’ argument was emanating from. The young, successful executive, had something else that was first in his life. He did not love God with his entire being. “Something else” was holding him back. The thing was his wealth/money. Are we any different? The young man was propelled by his drive for success. He may have trusted in: his ability to earn; his bank account; his negotiating ability; his investment strategy or his retirement savings. He must have thought that he was going to be OK in this life because he had the security of money. This way of thinking leads any Christian to certain dangers:
- a) If one is trusting one’s resources or investments, one is not trusting God. Jesus said that in Matthew 6: No one can serve two masters; you cannot serve God and the material world! You must make a choice!
- b) Wealth/Money cannot do anything about life beyond the grave. You can be comfortable in this life but you will leave all the money here when you die. You can invest wisely and be comfortable for retirement. But that “security” does not address the bigger issue of eternity. Yet “ETERNAL LIFE” was the main concern of the rich man! Unfortunately, today, many people do not even spare a thought for “eternity”. That subject hardly enters into the agenda of modern man. Today, people live mainly for the HERE and NOW; no more!
- c) Money (‘stuff’/wealth) is not as secure as we think. It takes one major medical problem to wipe it out completely. The market could crash. One could be fired from a job. One could be swindled. Now, when such a thing happens, many people believe that their lives are over because of the losses. But the fact is that their lives are NEVER over! They are just BROKE! Even then, God still promises to supply our needs. God wants us to live with him in eternity.
- “WE HAVE GIVEN UP EVERYTHING AND FOLLOWED YOU.”
Hearing the talk about giving up treasures and the disciples piped up: “We’ve done that! We have left everything to follow you”. Jesus agreed that they had truly done so. He told them that God had taken note of their faithfulness. He said, such sacrifice would not be overlooked but instead would be rewarded one-hundredfold. The disciple may have done some mathematics immediately: “If we have given Jesus one dollar, we are sure to have 100 dollars in return.” That is what many people expect whenever they are honouring God, or giving him anything. They see God as a means to financial gain.
Jesus points out that God will abundantly bless those who “give up for the Lord” with treasures of much greater value: A deeper joy in life; peace in one’s soul; an assurance of eternal life that leads to no longer fearing death; a deep awareness that you are loved more than you can know. These blessings are things that money cannot buy. They come from a right relationship with the Lord. These are the values that are praised in the First Reading of today. The values in the Kingdom of God are different from the values of the world.
However, these blessings do not come without a price! There is a cross of PERSECUTIONS, and hardships that one must go through in order to attain the highest good. No doubt, the face of the young rich man fell, and he walked away! Nothing good comes easy!
- THE WISDOM OF GOD IS ALL THAT MATTERS
What really matters, then, in life? As said earlier, the first reading of today says that THE WISDOM OF GOD is all that matters. To see things as God sees them; to understand as God understands; to enjoy the fruits of creation as God means them to be enjoyed; to use our talents and gifts, our very works to come closer to God, to lead our families in love so that we are a reflection of the Holy family; this is what matters in life. We may be well off financially. We may not be well off financially. What is important is that our life revolves around the love of the Lord in and through others. This is Wisdom!
This is the wisdom that Solomon preferred instead of material riches. Note: this does not mean that choosing wisdom entails giving all the beautiful things of life. It simply means that once wisdom has been chosen, ALL GOOD THINGS COME IN THE COMPANY OF WISDOM.
Today, dear brother and sisters, we pray for the “Wisdom of God” so that we may be able to make the right choices in life.