28 Sunday B - Rich Young Man

From the Connections:

The young rich man in today’s Gospel is one of the most pitiable characters in the Jesus story.  Clearly, Jesus’ teachings and healings have touched something in him but his enthusiasm outdistances his commitment.  Assuring Jesus that he has kept the “you shall NOTS” of the Law, Jesus confronts the rich young man with the “you SHALLS” of the reign of God:  “Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor.”
And, as Mark describes it, the man’s face fell and “he went away sad.”  He can’t bring himself to do it.  His faith is not strong enough to give up the treasure he possesses for the “treasure in heaven.”  The young man walks away, sad certainly, and perhaps feeling even somewhat disillusioned that his hero Jesus is not what he thought and hoped he would be.

Then Jesus, speaking to his disciples, turns another Jewish belief upside down.  Popular Jewish morality was simple: prosperity was a sign that one had found favor with God.  There was a definite “respectability” to being perceived as wealthy and rich (how little things have changed).  Great wealth, Jesus points out, is actually a hindrance to heaven:  Rich people tend to look at things in terms of price, of value, of the “bottom line.”  Jesus preaches detachment from things in order to become completely attached to the life and love of God.
Throughout the Gospel, Jesus points to the inadequacy of viewing religion as a series of codes and laws.  The young man was no different than his contemporaries in seeing one’s relationship with God as based on a series of negatives (“you shall not”).  Discipleship is not based on NOT doing and avoiding but on DOING and acting in the love of God.  Jesus calls us not to follow a code of conduct but, rather, to embrace the Spirit that gives meaning and purpose to the great commandment.

HOMILY POINTS:                  
To be a person of faith demands not simply a matter of avoiding what is bad (“you shall NOT”) but the much harder work of seeking out and embracing what is of God: mercy, justice, compassion, reconciliation (“you SHALL”).
Today’s Gospel challenges us to consider how we use wealth and the power it has in our lives.  Wealth should enable us to live life to the fullest; but too often what we have can weigh us down, preventing us from moving on with our lives — the prosperity that should enable our journey becomes more important than the journey itself. 
Wealth is seductive: what we consume can consume us – we can be swallowed up in our pursuit of wealth, prestige and power, becoming immune to the joy of the human experience.  Whatever we possess that inhibits us from embracing the love of God to the fullest is a curse, not a blessing.
Discipleship demands more than token offerings and the rote adherence to rituals and traditions – our baptism into the life of Christ compels us to focus every dimension of our lives on the things of God.
Jesus asks everything of us as the cost of being his disciple — but Jesus asks only what we have, not what we don’t have.  Each one of us possesses talents and resources, skills and assets that we have been given by God for the work of making the kingdom of God a reality in the here and now.  

In this is eternal life
A college’s star baseball player went up to Jesus and asked:
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “Go to the local playground and help set up an after-school program for kids at risk.”
The baseball star’s face fell, and he went away sad, because his focus was on the making it to the majors.
The owner of a small business asked Jesus:
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus said, “Go and create job opportunities for those who have lost their jobs and whose families are struggling.”
The business owner’s face fell, and he went away sad, because he was barely keeping his own company going.
A woman who had just buried her sister who had died of cancer asked Jesus:
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
With great compassion for her, Jesus said, “Go, put aside your grief for your dear sister, and give your time to help raise money for cancer research.”
The woman’s face fell, and she went away sad, because the loss of her sister was still too painful.

We know how the rich young man feels in today’s Gospel.  Yes, Jesus asks everything of us as the cost of being his disciple — but Jesus asks only what we have, not what we don’t have.  Each one of us possesses talents and resources, skills and assets that we have been given by God for the work of making the kingdom of God a reality in the here and now.  We are often unable to choose the things of God over the things we own — things that have come to us only as a result of God’s providence.  Authentic discipleship demands more than token contributions and the rote following of rituals and traditions; our baptism into the life of Christ compels us to focus every dimension of our lives on the things of God.  To be the disciple of Christ we seek to become means a reordering of our priorities, a restructuring of our days to make time for the things of God.  May we return to God the gifts he has given us in order to embrace eternity in the time to come.  

From Fr. Jude Botelho:

The first reading poses the question: Do we desire wisdom, and how much do we value it? It also reminds us in the very first verse that God is ready to give us this gift. "I prayed and understanding was given to me; I entreated and the spirit of wisdom came upon me." The reading also reminds us that wisdom is priceless, to be valued more than silver and gold. If God were to ask us to name one thing that he could grant us, what would we ask for? A good job, a beautiful house, a lucrative career, to be number one, to be healthy? All these are good and perhaps necessary. But is it what I have that is important or what I am that is important to me?

Give me your spirit of…
A story is told of a poor beggar who lived on alms he received from begging. One day on his begging rounds, he came upon a holy man, who was lost in prayer, sitting in seclusion in the forest. Approaching the holy man the beggar asked for alms. Without a second thought the holy man put his hand into his pocket took out a large precious stone and gave it to the beggar. The beggar could not believe his eyes. Before the holy man could change his mind the beggar disappeared from the scene holding on to the jewel for dear life. He clutched it so tightly his hands hurt. All along the way, he was suspicious of every one and reached his hut tense and worried. Once inside his hut he locked himself and was sure that some would come to attack him. He could not sleep at night for a moment for fear of losing the stone. He got up in the morning a mental wreck, exhausted, tense and worried. What was he going to do with this precious stone? He could not mix with others even of his own family lest they ask for it. Finally, he hurried to the holy man in the forest and quickly gave back the stone. The Holy man asked him why he was returning the precious stone. The beggar replied. "I don't want the stone it is ruining my life. But I want something else from you. When I asked you for alms, without a second thought you parted with that precious stone. Can you give me that spirit of detachment? Then I will be happy whether I have or don't have anything!"

The Gospel tells us of the encounter of the rich young man who comes to Jesus saying: "What should I do with my life? What should I do to be happy?" Questions we have often asked in the silence of our hearts. Jesus gives the young man the expected answer of his times. "Keep the commandments and you will be happy". But this good young man really wanted more. He had kept all the laws, and yet he was not happy. Maybe we have sometimes experienced the same in our lives, we have been law-abiding citizens, but there seems to be something missing in our lives. The Gospel tells us that Jesus looked at the man with love, he appreciated what he had been doing, then he went to the heart of the matter, he confronted him with what was really missing in his life. "There is one thing you lack. Go sell all you have and come follow me."  What is Jesus challenging him to do? To be really happy he invites the young man to forget the minimum - keeping the law, and go for the maximum- go for it! Isn't keeping the commandments and living a good moral life enough?  Yes, it is good but not good enough! To merely keep the law is a negative approach to life.  What have we done positively with our lives? This is the challenge and the invitation of Jesus to the young man, this is the challenge and the invitation to you and me. To live in love! To go beyond the demands of the law to the demands of love! The last point of the gospel is the question that Peter asks: " What about us? We have left everything to follow you?" Jesus gives us his pledge: There is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, land for the sake of the Gospel who will not be repaid a hundred times over in this life and in the next!"

Another Rich Young Man
Jean Vanier is internationally recognized as a humanitarian because of his care for the retarded. The son of a former Governor General of Canada, he served for a while as an officer of the Canadian Navy and later taught at the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto. But he left behind all his family’s wealth and comfortable life style to establish a family-type home for the retarded, which he named L'Arche. His hope was that it would be an Ark of refuge for the retarded in a hostile world. Under Jean Vanier's inspiration, homes similar to L'Arche have sprung up all over the world. Jean Vanier is like a modern day St. Francis of Assisi who has taken literally our Lord's words in today's gospel. "If you want to be perfect, if you want to be happy, there is one more thing you must do. Go sell what you have and give to the poor, then come follow me."
Albert Cylwicki in 'His Word Resounds'

Lacking Commitment
James Lallam tells this amusing story in one of his writings. Years ago, a young door-to-door salesman was assigned a rural area. One day he came upon a farmer seated in a rocking chair on his front porch. The young man went up to the farmer enthusiastically and said. "Sir, I have a book here that will tell you how to farm ten times better than you are doing now." The farmer didn't bother to look up. He simply kept on rocking. Finally, after a few minutes, he glanced up at the young salesman and said, "Young man, I don't need your book. I already know how to farm ten times better than I am doing now." -The story is a good illustration of what Jesus was talking about in today's gospel. The farmer was capable of farming better, but he lacked the commitment to do so. The rich young man was also capable of doing more than just keeping the commandments, but he too lacked the commitment to do so."
Mark Link in 'Sunday Homilies'

Ready to let go?
A little child was playing one day with a very valuable vase. All of a sudden, he put his hand into it and couldn't withdraw it. His father too, tried his best, but all in vain. They were thinking of breaking the vase when the father said, "Now, my son, make one more try. Open your hand and hold your fingers straight as you see me doing, and then pull." To the dad's astonishment the little fellow said, "Oh no, father. I couldn't put my fingers out like that, because if I did I would drop my penny." Many of us are like that little boy, so busy holding on to the worthless pennies of the world that we cannot accept liberation. The rich young man in today's gospel is just another example. He wanted eternal life but will not let go "the peanuts" of riches.
John Pichappilly in 'The Table of the Word’

Oh, Lord, hit him again!
A Parish Church was badly in need of repairs. So the pastor called a special meeting to raise funds. At the assembly, the pastor explained the need of an emergency fund for replacing the roof, supporting pillars and renovation in the Church. He invited the parishioners to pledge contributions. After a pause, Mr. Murphy, the richest man in the parish, volunteered to give 50 dollars. Just as he sat down, a chunk of the plaster fell from the ceiling on his head. He jumped up, looked terribly startled and said: "I meant to say 500 dollars." The congregation stood silent and stunned. Then a lone voice cried out from the back: "Oh, Lord, hit him again!"
John Pichappilly in 'The Table of the Word'

Have we got money or has money got us?
There is an old story about an 18th century man who was moving overseas. His life savings of gold and silver coins were carried in a big money belt he wore around his waist. The ship hit an iceberg and started to go down. It was sinking so fast that many people had to jump into the water and swim to the lifeboats already launched. The man jumped in, but because he could not bear the thought of leaving that heavy money belt behind, he went to the bottom of the sea. The story ends with this haunting question: "Would you say that this man had his money or that his money had him?" This story resembles today's gospel story.

The Happy Saint
As compared to the rich young man in the gospels, there is a rich, glad youth revered by people of all faiths, worldwide. Born in Assisi and baptized 'Giovanni', his wealthy father, a cloth merchant, added the name 'Francesco' and wanted him to inherit the family business. But young Francesco took Jesus' words seriously. Not only did he hand over his inheritance and fine attire to the poor, but he also embraced 'Lady Poverty' lifelong to give himself fully to God. His biography "The Perfect Joy of St. Francis” is one of the finest books ever written. Was Francis of Assisi poor? Rich? One thing is sure: he was never sad.
Francis Gonsalves in 'Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds'

From Fr. Tony Kadavil:

#1: How to Catch a Monkey  

With a coconut, some roasted peanuts or rice and a string, tribal people living in the border of forests in Africa, Sri Lanka and India have been trapping monkeys for centuries.  At one end of the coconut, they open a hole that is big enough to allow a monkey's hand to push inside. However, the hole is too small for a monkey to remove his hand when he makes a fist.  On the other end of the coconut, a string is firmly attached and tied to a tree trunk.  The coconut trap, with roasted peanuts or roasted rice inside, is placed along a monkey's trail, and the trapper hides behind bushes with a net.   The monkey smells the peanuts and is attracted to them.    He puts his hand through the hole and grabs a handful of peanuts, after which it is impossible for him to remove his hand since he  is  unwilling  to  let  go  of  the  peanuts.    Suddenly  the trapper casts the net over the monkey and traps it.  We too are  attracted  by  different  "peanuts"  that  can  be detrimental to our spiritual and physical pursuits.  Today’s gospel presents a rich young man who wants eternal life but will not relinquish the peanuts" of riches. 

#2: The Success Syndrome:   
Harvard Medical School psychologist Steven Berglas has written a book called The Success Syndrome. He has found that individuals who in his word "suffer" from success have arrogance and a sense of aloneness. Insider trader Dennis Levine was asked by his wife why he needed the money from insider trading, and he really had no answer. Levine says that when his income was

$100,000, he hungered for $200,000, and when he was making $1 million, he hungered for $3 million. Berglas says that oddly enough people who found that $200,000 did not make them happy, never asked themselves why they thought $300,000 would make them happy. Asked to prescribe a cure for the success syndrome, Berglas said, "What's  missing  in  these  people  (Ivan  Boesky,  Michael Milken, Leona Helmsley), is deep commitment or religious activity that goes far beyond just writing a check to a charity." [James W. Fowler, Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1984), p. 88.]

 # 3: Destined to drown with his treasure:
There is an old story about an 18th century man who was moving overseas.  His life's savings of gold and silver coins were carried in a big money  belt  he  wore  around  his  waist.    The  ship  hit  an iceberg and started to go down.  It was sinking so fast that many people had to jump in the water and swim to the lifeboats already launched.   The man jumped in, but because he could not bear the thought of leaving that heavy money belt behind, he went to the bottom of the sea.  The story ends with this haunting question: "Would you say that this man had his money, or that his money had him?" Jesus tells the story of such a man in today’s gospel.

#4: "Oh Lord, hit him again!
The parish church was badly in need of repair.  So the pastor called a special meeting to raise funds.  At the assembly, the pastor explained the need of   an   emergency   fund   for   plastering   the   roof   and supporting pillars and for carrying out other items of repair. He invited the congregation to pledge contributions. After a brief pause, Mr. Murphy, the richest man in the parish, volunteered to give 50 dollars.  Just as he sat down, a hunk of plaster fell from the ceiling on his head.  He jumped up, looked  terribly  startled  and  said:  I  meant  to  say  500 dollars.”  The congregation stood silent and stunned.  Then a lone voice cried out from the back: “Oh Lord, hit him again!


#5: Andrew Carnegie made millions in the steel industry.
He worked hard helping the poor and underprivileged. Once a socialist came to see him in his office and soon was railing against the injustice of Carnegie having so much money. In his view, wealth was meant to be divided equally. Carnegie asked his secretary for an assessment of everything he owned and at the same time looked up the figures on world population. He did a little arithmetic on a pad and then said to his secretary. "Give this gentleman l6 cents. That’s his share of my money.

# 6: A wealthy older gentleman
had just recently married a lovely young lady, and was beginning to wonder whether she might have married him for his money. So he asked her, "Tell me the truth: if I lost all my money, would you still love me?" She said reassuringly, "Oh honey, don’t be  silly. Of course I would still love you. And I’d miss you terribly."

1)    The Freedom to Sing

The French have a story about a millionaire in his palace who spent his days counting his gold. Beside the palace was a poor cobbler who spent his days singing as he repaired people's shoes. The joyful singing irritated the rich man. One day he decided to give some gold coins to the cobbler. At first the cobbler was overjoyed, and he took the coins and hid them. But then he would be worried and go back to check if the coins were still there. Then he would be worried in case someone had seen him, and he would move the coins and hide them in another place. During all this, he ceased to sing. Then one day he realized that he had ceased to sing because of the gold coins. He took them back to the rich man and said, "take back your coins and give me back my songs."

Gerry Pierse, Detachment and Freedom

2)    Shot in the Wallet

The devil was on the prowl one day out to get the Christian. When he saw the Christian he shot one of his fiery darts and it struck the Christian in the chest. The Christian had on the breastplate of righteousness so he wasn't harmed. The devil shot at the Christian's head but that was protected by the helmet of salvation. The devil figured everyone has an Achilles' heel, so he shot at the Christian's feet that were shod with the gospel of peace so no harm was done. The Christian smirked and turned around to walk away. The devil fired an arrow into the Christian's wallet and killed him.

Beth Quick, Mission: Impossible


3)    Do All the Good

Henry Thoreau said, "Be not merely good; be good for something." That was Jesus' challenge to the man who wanted to know what he could do to inherit eternal life. He had been good at making money, in being morally upright and keeping the commandments; but that is not the ultimate good: he must also give of himself and what he has in behalf of others. He needed to also realize that, "The gift without the giver is bare." John Wesley proposed an excellent guide to goodness. He said, and he practiced what he preached:

Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,
At all the times you can,
As long as ever you can.

Someone else has expressed the ideal of goodness in a wonderful way, saying, "I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore, that I can do, or any goodness that I can show to my fellow creatures, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."

Clement E. Lewis, When It's Twilight Time, CSS Publishing Company


4)    Real Wealth - Priorities

God creates us with a variety of needs, desires, interests, talents, and opportunities. But these things don't define what we'll be. They're like the bricks, lumber, wallboard, shingles, and tiles we might see piled on the road near a construction site. It's what we make from the raw elements of our personalities that defines who we are; and this is where priorities and choices are crucial.

Jimmy Carter, Sources of Strength, Random House, p. 230.


5)    The Failure that Looked Like Success

More than forty years ago, I heard a man describe two paintings he said he had at his home. I have never forgotten them even though I never saw them. One was of the figure in Jesus' story of the rich man whose crops produced so abundantly that he decided to pull down his barns and build bigger ones, and he said to his soul, "Soul, eat, drink, and have a great time, for tomorrow you die." The caption under this painting said: "The Failure that Looked Like Success." The other painting, the companion painting, was of Jesus dying on the cross, the crown of thorns on his head, his chin drooping against his chest, the crude nails in his hands, and all his friends off somewhere in hiding. The caption under this picture said: "The Success that Looked Like Failure."

We would all like to be successful and fulfilled as persons; it is one of the dreams with which our culture imbues us. But when we listen to Jesus, we realize that success and fulfillment don't really come the way we often expect them to. They aren't the direct result of anything we can do to attain them. Instead, they're a gift from God and they simply happen when we are doing the right things with our lives. In God's eyes it is a whole lot better to be a success that looks like failure than a failure that looks like success.

John Killinger, The Real Way to Personal Fulfillment

6)    We Want It Our Way

The story of Faust by Goethe has become part of our heritage. Faust was a man who longed for romance, academic success, and wealth. Unable to find these on his own, he made a pact with the devil. If he could be granted his wishes, have his true worth made public and enjoy its fruits, then he would give his soul to the devil. Sure enough, he enjoyed marvelous romances, fabulous successes, and much wealth. Oddly enough, when the time came, he was unwilling to keep his part of the bargain. I wonder if there is a parallel here. We put Jesus off, promising, "Just one more of this and one more of that -- then I will be willing to go with you, Jesus." Are we not like little Fausts, wanting to have it our way? After all, we say, we deserve it! And what do we say to Jesus when he comes to claim us?

Thomas Peterson, The Needle's Eye, CSS Publishing Company.


7)    Four Questions for Church Membership

A seminary professor named Stanley Hauerwas has a novel idea about how churches should receive new members. A teacher of Christian ethics at Duke University, he has written about the church's need for honesty and has called us to tell the truth as a "community of character."

To this end, he has a modest proposal. Whenever people join the church, Hauerwas thinks they should stand and answer four questions: * Who is your Lord and Savior? The response: "Jesus Christ." * Do you trust in him and seek to be his disciple? "I do." * Will you be a faithful member of this congregation? The answer: "I will." * Finally, one last question: What is your annual income?

You heard me correctly. When people join the church, Dr. Hauerwas thinks they ought to name their Lord and Savior and tell fellow church members how much money they make. It is obvious Hauerwas does not serve as a pastor of a congregation. His idea just wouldn't work, especially in the American church. Most church members believe salary figures are more sacred than prayer, and would quickly tell an inquisitive minister to snoop around somewhere else. What's more, parish experience tempers the questions a minister asks of church members. Most pastors quickly learn how to dance around the issue of money without ever naming it.

William G. Carter, No Box Seats in the Kingdom, CSS Publishing.