We can experience the freedom of God's children

  • October 2, 2009

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Oct. 11 (Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 90; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30)

Intelligence and wisdom are not the same — one can be a very educated and intelligent fool. In some of the most beautiful poetic prose in the Old Testament, the author of Wisdom paints a picture of something more valuable than power, fame, wealth or health. The marketers would probably love to get their hands on whatever it is — the ultimate luxury item. Unfortunately for them but fortunately for us it is not for sale and cannot be successfully counterfeited — no knockoffs! 

This gift of wisdom can only be granted by God but it requires human co-operation. It is not knowledge — we have far too much of that and it has not made us wiser. Wisdom is the art of living in a manner that is genuinely human and rooted in divine principles. This art includes the ability to love and be loved as well as to feel and show compassion. Wisdom guides us in making decisions especially those in which there is a degree of moral ambiguity. Quite simply, it helps us to the right thing — whatever is just, honest and compassionate.

God’s gift of wisdom can only be fruitful when we are willing to be open to our own experience. The necessary ingredients for wisdom include open-mindedness, willingness not to judge, a fair amount of patience and a liberal dose of humility. There are other important qualities, such as the ability to listen to others respectfully and to practise patience. A commitment to wisdom rather than being right would be so helpful in the ethical and theological debates of our own time. They might provide a balm for the viciousness, fanaticism and polarization that are poisoning our religious, social and political environments.

A two-edged sword is not the happiest of symbols to describe the word of God. Perhaps a more modern and less violent symbol would be more helpful. But the message remains the same. The Word of God — and Word is not just written texts, but every form of divine self-disclosure — sweeps away our own pretensions and self-delusion. There is no hiding from it and it cannot be manipulated or deceived. An encounter with the Word is never a comfortable experience, for it reveals to each of us what we are really made of and who we really are. It mirrors back to us our own thoughts, intentions and deeds minus all of our self-justifications and rationalizations. It cannot be used as a weapon against anyone else but only as a tool for self-knowledge, wisdom and transformation.

The rich young man encountered the Word of God — Jesus — and it was an extremely unsettling experience. He was a good and upright man. This is no sinner seeking forgiveness but only the hunger of one who senses that there must be more. Jesus brushes aside His respectful greeting and even being called “good.” All glory is for God who alone can be called good. This must have been unsettling enough. When Jesus provides him with a spiritual checklist so that he can measure his progress, the young man is able to truthfully reply that he has lived up to all of this. He has unwittingly hit upon an important truth: there is far more to being a disciple of Christ than just being good. Jesus recognizes that this man relies upon his wealth as a source of security and identity. He invites him to let go of the one thing that hinders his complete freedom and ability to rely solely on God.

The man’s shock and agitation speak volumes: he is unable and goes away deeply disappointed. Jesus had looked upon the man with love and even now does not judge him. He merely observes that it is extremely difficult for those who are attached to possessions, power, prestige and wealth to enter the Kingdom of God.

But in reply to the stricken realization of the disciples that very few would be saved, Jesus underlines the fact that salvation is a gift from God in whom all things are possible. There are so many things that we can be attached to beyond the obvious ones such as wealth. Among them are reputation, lifestyle, identity, our work, our opinions and ideologies, and even our religiosity. Jesus invites us to experience the freedom of the children of God.