Monday, November 2, 2009

10-11-2009: 28th Ordinary Time (B)

Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 7:7-11/Psalm 90/Hebrews 4:12-13/Mark 10:17-27
Sometimes you wish those gospel writers had taken a basic course in journalism before they sat down to pen holy writ. Like in today’s gospel, for instance, where we hear the story of the rich young man whom Jesus looks on with love. Now there’s a detail worth noting - the Greek literally reads: and Jesus looking at him loved him. And yet, despite the endearing intimacy of this detail in the young man’s encounter with Jesus, the gospel writer neglects to mention the rich young man’s name. Had the rich young man did what Jesus asked, had he sold his possessions and given the proceeds to the poor and had he, indeed, followed Jesus - he well might have been counted as one of the Twelve Apostles, displacing a would-be later recruit. That might have changed our shared cultural history a bit. Instead of a Thomas or a James, we might have had an Isaiah or a Seth. Just think: little Irish kids with freckles answering to Shlomo; Mexican Iras paying homage to the Virgin of Guadalupe; Italian Yehudas eating pasta and pork.

But, then again, maybe the gospel writer purposefully omitted the name: the mystery man having decided he couldn’t do what Jesus asked. The rich young man’s face fell, we are told, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Not only is his name lost to history, but his story is lost as well – not worth the words – mediocrity doesn’t merit a mention it seems.

Remember: the rich young man wasn’t a bad person. He obeyed all the commandments: he practiced his religion, he didn’t harm anyone. But in the end, Jesus seems to be saying, that’s not what it’s all about. In the end it’s not the riches or the poverty that counts, but how we respond to that love that comes to us in unexpected ways, in a passing glance, in that brief encounter where we know intuitively and with a certain certitude that our destiny lies on the line.

Perhaps religion prepares us for that moment. Perhaps it was because the rich young man observed his religious duties and obeyed his religion’s precepts that he was attracted to Jesus in the first place. But ultimately it didn’t afford him the courage to embrace his destiny – religion failed him at the crucial moment. Sometimes, Carl Jung once said, religion is the very thing that protects us from the experience of God.

Yet, maybe the rich young man’s anonymity serves another purpose. Maybe it fuels imagination, allowing us to suppose other outcomes. Although the rich young man walked away from Jesus at that decisive moment, he might have turned around somewhere down the road. It’s possible, isn’t it? Who knows? Perhaps someday they’ll unearth a long lost gospel in which we discover that the rich young man of our story turns out to be someone like Joseph of Arimathea whose wealth provided both shroud and tomb for the crucified Jesus; or, perhaps, one of the wealthy supporters of St. Paul on his expensive missionary travels. Who knows - might we each have more than one possible destiny, more than one way to respond to that experience of being looked on with love? Love changes everything, the popular song says, maybe even the way we read the bible, the way we hear what’s being said. Camels passing through needles’ eyes - a warning about wealth or a metaphor for possibilities – endless, rich possibilities.

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