There Is One Thing You Lack!

A Reflection for 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B).
Wisdom 7:7-11 – Hebrews 4:12-13 – Mark 10:17-30.

Dear brothers and sisters, what an uplifting thing it is to see us gathered together every Sunday to participate in our celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Every time that we come together, we have an opportunity to encounter Jesus profoundly. We hear Him speak to our hearts in ways that both encourage us and challenge us.

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear about a rich young man who approached Jesus, fully expecting Him to confirm what he must do to inherit eternal life (v.17). Jesus reminded him of the precepts of the Law, and the man confirmed that he had been keeping all these from [his] earliest days (v.20). Then Jesus informed him that there is one thing you lack (v.21).

What is it that he was lacking? The lack became apparent when Jesus told him to go and sell everything he owned, give the proceeds to the poor and follow Me (v.21). The Bible tells us that the man went away sad because he was very wealthy (v.22). Our Lord’s response to this particular man prompts many questions from us. How does that teaching apply to us? Do we take it to mean that to be wealthy in material things is a bad thing? Is material wealth invariably counterbalanced by spiritual poverty? Does it mean that Christians should choose to be materially poor? So, what is it really that the wealthy man lacked? What he was lacking is the understanding of how to use the good things in life – in this instance, his earthly wealth – for the glory of God. Jesus was showing him that in addition to keeping the Commandments and honouring God and respecting others, it is about going out of our way to do special things to benefit humanity created in the image of God (Gen 1:27).

This is what he was lacking. The 1st Reading, taken from the book of Wisdom, puts it this way: I prayed and understanding was given me; I entreated and the spirit of Wisdom came to me. Understanding and wisdom are advantageous to us in our relationship with God in the here-and-now and in our pursuit of heaven. Wisdom gives us understanding of how God wants us to see in the riches of this world the opportunities to help each other out. What Jesus teaches us through the reaction of the wealthy man is that both salvation and provision for the needs of life this side of eternity should be offered to everyone.

When the man told Jesus that he had been keeping the Commandments from his earliest years, what happened next? Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him (v.21). From this we deduce that God wants even more from us than keeping to the letter of the Law, although of course it is a direct route to Godliness. He wants us to fulfil the spirit of the Law, He wants us to go the extra mile with each and every one of His people, and He gives us practical examples to emulate. When someone is going all-out to keep the Commandments, that is an alert to God that he/she is ready for the ‘main feature’ (the main part of God’s programme) which consists in not allowing earthly things to hinder them from following Jesus, in detaching deliberately from worldly attractions, and in following Jesus every remaining day of their life.

We can see what was lacking in him. Jesus teaches us the spirit of the Law. Think about how Jesus commended the Commandments (they are His, after all!) and then put them in a nutshell: love God and love your neighbour as yourself (Mt 22:37ff). That is what Jesus was highlighting to the man. By extension, we are cautioned against indulging our desire to have everything our way, especially if that desire knocks other people out of the way. As you check through the Commandments, you will notice that it is incumbent upon us to be alert not only to God but also to the needs of our fellow human beings. There are things in life that we hug to ourselves, that we find difficult to let go of for the good of others, things we feel unable to sacrifice to benefit the wider community. Those things constitute our “wealth”. What Jesus did was to show that rich man, and all of us as well, the spirit of the Commandments – the meaning enshrined in the Law of God. Don’t you think that when Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, He had seen the sincere desire of this man to do God’s will and gain heaven, but that He had also seen the man’s selfishness and pride barring his way. The 2nd reading tells us that the Word of God (Jesus Himself, v.13) can judge the secret emotions and thoughts (v.12). Nothing can hide from Him. Are we ready to place Jesus at the centre of our lives and to beg for His help and power to overcome our selfishness and our self-centredness? Doing that would go such a long way towards removing the barriers to doing God’s will and ultimately gaining heaven.

In a time like this, when many people at home and across the world are finding it difficult to make ends meet, the media bombard us with messages regarding the attractiveness and desirability of material security. Western society judges our success in life by the amount in our bank account, the extent of our possessions and the exclusiveness of the area in which we live. But the wisdom and understanding that we gain from today’s readings enlighten us that there is much more to life than what is immediately apparent. The rich young man prided himself on his goodness and on having kept the Law to the best of his ability. Jesus was more interested in the use he hadn’t made of his life’s riches, in the good he hadn’t done with his wealth, and He faced him with the challenge to give up the earthly riches which he valued above all else in order to follow Him. Christ invites us too to follow in His footsteps by placing ourselves in His hands, sacrificing whatever is holding us back from God, and selflessly bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth. With God all things are possible (Mt 19:26). God’s grace is abundantly available for us to be successful in this. Fill us with your love so that we may rejoice (Ps 90:14). Amen. God bless you.