What do we desire in life? What are the things we value most in life? What are our goals in life?
The Scripture passages for today’s liturgy give us some insight into these questions. The first reading from the Book of Wisdom speaks of wisdom as the greatest of gifts. The speaker says: “I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.”
He goes on to say that this is more important and lasting than power (“scepter and throne”) and riches (“priceless gem,” “gold,” “silver”). The passage conveys a joy in the speaker, a joy that makes the things of fleeting value unimportant, a distraction at best.
The Gospel passage recalls Jesus’ encounter with the rich man, who seems to be pondering the purpose of and path to life when he asks Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus recites the commandments in reply. The man then says, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”
St. Mark then tells us that “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’”
It is with love that Jesus invites the man to follow him. Jesus loves him and wants the best for him. His word offers life. He is offering the man what he seeks – the way to life.
The Letter to the Hebrews describes the word of God in this way: “Indeed the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.”
Perhaps this is what is going on when the man hears the word of Jesus. There is something in his life that holds him back from that relationship which needs to be central for life – the relationship with Jesus. The man has asked Jesus the question about life. He hears the response. Yet he is unable to respond, as St. Mark tells us: “At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
It seems that the man, rather than possessing many things, was himself possessed by them. This situation does not fill him with joy or fulfillment or happiness; quite the contrary, it leaves him “sad.”
Jesus is the path to life, the way to the Father and the source of everything that has lasting value in life. He invites us to follow him along that path. His way is the way of wisdom and this will lead to joy.
As the Gospel passage continues, Jesus speaks with the larger group of disciples. He teaches them that riches and wealth can get in the way; they will present challenges to keep to the path of life.
Yet it is not by man’s power that one comes to life, for God is the one who draws and invites, who sustains and provides. So when the disciples say, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus responds, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. Nothing is impossible for God.”
Jesus knows the challenges involved; he is living them himself. In the encounter with the rich man, Jesus looked at him with love and with compassion, for he knows the secrets of the heart. He knows what holds that man back, and he knows how hard it will be for him to separate himself from his possessions.
Yet this is the path of life, and Jesus must offer it and ask the man to surrender everything for it. When Jesus speaks to the disciples about persecutions and suffering because they choose to follow him, he has a similar compassion. He then reminds them that the reward outweighs the sacrifice and encourages them to persevere.
I began above by asking three questions: What do we desire in life? What are the things we value most in life? What are our goals in life? Perhaps after reflecting on the passages from the Scriptures in today’s liturgy, we might rather ask ourselves: Where is Jesus leading me? How is God asking me to live? And how can I follow him?
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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