Wisdom 7:7-11; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30
We have all heard the phrase: “Money is the root of all evil.” But scripture never calls money inherently evil. In fact, wealth is often portrayed throughout God’s Word as a blessing from the Lord. Think of Abraham or Solomon or other biblical figures. Matthew was a rich man. So was Zacchaeus.
In today’s gospel reading about the rich young man we find St. Mark reporting: 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.’
The bible reports several people whom Jesus especially loved. One was Lazarus, the man He raised from the dead. Jesus, the gospels tell us, loved him along with his sisters, Martha and Mary. St. John the Apostle was another Jesus especially loved. Several times he is referred to as “the one Jesus loved”, or the Beloved Disciple. And there was of course His own mother, Mary. Finally there was the rich young man about whom we just heard in today’s gospel account. St. Mark tells us that Jesus, in answering the young man’s question, looked deeply into him and loved him. He loved him enough to give the young man an answer that would bring him a richness of life far beyond anything this world could ever offer him.
We need to focus on the rich young man’s question. Asking the right question gives us the proper direction leading to the needed answer. Not asking the right question only leads us into a morass of dead-end pseudo answers. Notice here that the rich young man did not ask, “How can I help?” or “How much money do you need?” No. Rather he asked Jesus how he could receive an even greater inheritance than that which was already coming to him. It was his desire for more wealth that was his downfall.
We have all heard the phrase “Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.” Such is the case here. Jesus asked him to make a risk-capital investment, to place all that he had and all that he was into God’s care, into God’s hands. Jesus asked him to give up the security of his wealth, family position and power… to give up his independence and become dependent, to hand over his self-governance and so allow God to govern, control, and direct his life. Sadly, the rich young man thought that Jesus’ answer to His question was too costly – he couldn’t bring himself to pay the price.
St. Peter likewise had to face the question. On one occasion he bluntly said to Jesus: “We have left everything and followed you. What are we to have, then?” Jesus responded that he would be repaid a hundred times over and inherit everlasting life as well. As we all know, Peter’s response was wobbly. Nevertheless he did end up taking the risk. Thereupon Jesus made him the rock upon which He would build His Church.
Things of great value come at a high cost. Living a life of value comes at a cost. Jesus speaks of that in His parable about the pearl of great price. Which presents us with the question: “What is of lasting value?” What is an investment I can make that will give me something that can never be devalued? Cheap things that do not last can be bought cheaply. That which has great and lasting value comes only to those who are willing to pay the price. Will you sell your soul for something cheap, or will you sell all you have to acquire the priceless pearl?
Are we willing to even face the question at all, or do we simply plod ahead through our dreary lives, setting the question aside without ever answering it? Making a conscious decision to turn our life over into the care of God is a major step in any recovery program. Likewise, if we wish to recover our lives and rid ourselves of our addictive self-concerns and habitual self-gratifications we must likewise turn our lives over into the care of God. It is, however, a risk-capital investment that many judge to be too costly.
So what are you willing to risk?
You are here in church today because you claim to be a Christian, to be a follower of Christ in His way, in His truth and in His life. If you are radical about your commitment to Christ then you will be faced with living a risky life. It is a great risk, a costly one, to live life as Christ did, to live as one of His own, to be loved by him. The testimony of history is that economics will not save humanity from its misery. The plagues of war, racism, and poverty have existed and exist now in many economic systems. Nor will science save us. We have only to take a look at what we have done with all of our newly discovered scientific wonders. Nor will technology save us. The Internet is both a blessing and a curse, it cannot save us.
What will save us comes from our hearts and souls, not from our brains and hands. Knowledge has not. Knowledge alone will not save us. Wisdom offers us more. Wisdom bids us place our lives, our fortunes, our treasures, and our talents into the care of God. Wisdom transcends facts, information and data, taking us into realms found beyond simple cognitive comprehension.
It is a risk to stand up for the value of human life at its beginning, as it is lived out, and in its ending. There is a risk in being known to be a moral person. The cultured despisers of religion will attack you, accuse you of being a hypocrite, and go on to accuse you of attempting to impose your own private and personal religion upon others. The risk of living as a person filled with the Presence of God means that you must stand under the judgment of Pontius Pilate who asked: “Truth, what is truth?” and then handed Jesus over to be crucified.
Living as a disciple of Christ means that you necessarily give a public, moral witness that emerges from deep within the Church and from Christ’s presence working in and through His Mystical Body. Ultimately it means living so as to point to the value of what it means to be a human person. It means placing who and what you are in contradistinction to what this world wants you to be. For the meaning of being human is revealed in the meaning and purpose of Christ’s life.
What is being asked of you is that you make your own risk-capital investment and place all that you are, and all that you have, and all that you will be into the hands of Jesus Christ to be disposed as he disposes. It is to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi who abandoned his privileged status, along with the wealth of his family, stood naked in front of his father, his family, his local bishop and his townspeople and then defiantly declared: “Naked I was born into this world, and naked will I leave it.”
When I was a young man some dark days came upon me in a time of terrible loss. In great love and tenderness my mother, a woman who herself had known years of suffering, pulled out from her prayer book the following prayer. She, too, had to face life’s big question and made the investment of placing her life, with all of its suffering and loss, into the hands of God. The prayer had helped her many times throughout her life. It was titled: The Prayer of an Unknown Confederate Soldier. It has sustained me many times, particularly when I have questioned my own commitment into the care of God. Perhaps it will help you, too.
PRAYER OF AN UNKNOWN CONFEDERATE SOLDIER
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve, I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey…. I asked for health, that I might do greater things, I was given infirmity, that I might do better things…. I asked for riches, that I might be happy, I was given poverty, that I might be wise…. I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men, I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God…. I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life, I was given life, that I might enjoy all things…. I got nothing that I asked for — but everything I had hoped for. Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. I am among all men most richly blessed.
Dying on His cross, Jesus cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Who has not, in great pain, likewise cried out that same question? It is only with great faith and courage that we can, with Jesus, give our Father in heaven our final commitment: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” No greater investment can be made by any man or woman. And the reward? A higher and better life in this world and forever in the next.