Fr. Paul's Homily
I would like to begin with a story, told by another pastor: “When I was a kid, my brother and I were riding our bikes from home to a place that repaired electric trains. I had my Lionel train engine in a sack hanging from my handlebar. Somewhere along the route, something happened, and my brother and I collided with a bang. My train engine fell out of the bag and crashed to the ground. It hit so hard that I felt right away that now it could not be repaired.
I screamed at my brother. He had made us crash, I said. I cried and carried on something awful. I was so angry at my brother and I made him carry all the guilt. I just knew that I had lost the one thing in the world that I really wanted. That Lionel engine was everything to me. I would not give up that engine for anything!
After my brother and I managed to get back on our bikes, and I had the Lionel engine in one hand, we rode the rest of the way to the repair shop. We spoke not a word after we started riding again. I was mad at my brother and upset that I had lost the use of my one prized possession.
We entered the repair shop and I told the man why I had brought the engine to begin with and how it had smashed to the ground on the way there. I expected he would take one look and tell us to go home. Instead, he realigned some things, applied electricity, replaced a wire … and put the engine on a track to run.
I could not believe the sense of relief I felt. How happy that made me. How sad I was for the way I had behaved toward my brother. The feeling that rolled over me as we rode our bikes home was: I have my engine back and running, but it doesn’t seem the same anymore. If that engine can upset me so much and really mess up my relationship with my brother by the way I behaved, something’s wrong. I can live without that engine. I can’t live without peace in my heart and I cannot live without being okay with my brother.
Wisdom, in childhood terms, came to me that day. As an adult, I can more easily let go of what might possess me so that I can follow the way of Jesus and have real treasure in the reign of God now and in the future.”
So, let us look at our Gospel. Sometimes it takes a long time to find the wisdom that God wants to give us. In the Gospel story a man runs up to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life? Jesus expresses the 10 commandments to him, to which the man responds, “I have observed all these from my youth.” Scripture then says that Jesus looked upon him with love and says, “Go, sell what you have, and give it to the poor; then come and follow me.” At this the man’s face fell with great sadness and he walked away, for he had many possessions that he could not give up.
It seems in the words, “He looked at him and loved him,” that Jesus sees something very special in this man. He perhaps can see his good heart or his desire to do what is right. Whatever Jesus saw, he loves him and wants him to be his follower. Not everyone who listened to Jesus was invited to follow him down the road. Jesus was inviting this man to be one of his disciples, a special role. Remember many of the other disciples had left everything to follow Jesus and to share in his life. Jesus is inviting this man to be one of these disciples, a chosen group for him. But the man could not do this. Why? Because of all the things that he possessed, or perhaps more accurately, possessed him!
How about us? Are there any “things” that would cause us to walk away from Jesus? Or, in the example of my beginning story, is there any”thing” that would cause me to damage my relationship with my son, daughter, parent, spouse, friend, co-worker? Sadly, many of us could think of times when some “thing” became more important than some “one”.
So many people want to have God in their lives, but they don’t want God to be number one. They would like God to be a benefit or a bonus, that is added to all the other ‘gods’ in their lives. We want God in our lives; but we don’t want to give up anything we presently have.
As with many other Gospel stories, Jesus is inviting us to put God first in our lives. This is a critical question and we should not run from it. Is God first in my life? Paul Tillich, a great theologian of the 20th century once said that if we examine our ultimate concern we might find a false god! What are you most worried about? What anxiety grips your hearts? Is it your job? Your health? Your relationships? Your retirement? Your family?
What would motivate us to put God first in our lives? This homily is not meant to make us feel guilty; rather we are challenged to allow God to move into the central position in our lives. What can motivate ME to do this!??? The Gospel has a clue: go to the small phrase, “Jesus, looking at him, LOVED him and said to him…” Jesus’ LOOK carried profound love and this love carried the power to change us.
Often in talking with an older parishioner, I will discovered that the person grew up in another state like New York, Michigan, or Florida. I’ll usually ask, “How did you end up in Indiana?” The answer is always the same…Love! They might not use this term, but it is love. Maybe the husband got a job here and she came with him….love. Or, maybe the wife’s family was from here, so they moved so they could be closer to her family…love. Love can cause us to give up everything and follow a person. And Jesus wants us to surrender everything, so that we can follow him. Why would we do this…Love. “Jesus looked at him with Love.”
Can I look upon the face of Christ in my mind, and see his love for me? Think of the love that has come to you through your creation, through your relationships, through your family, through your faith. Can we see Christ as the true source of these blessings? Think of the sacrifice that the Son of God made in dying on the cross for us? But, most of all, can we simply know the look of love?
Lets return to the Gospel for another insight. After the man walks away sadly, Jesus says, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” To these words, the disciples are shocked and their response is, “Then who can be saved?” This terrifying response from the disciples flows from a belief in their day, that success in the material world was a sign that God was favoring the person. In other words, being wealthy was seen a sign that God liked you! Knowing this background, we can understand why the disciples were so shocked to hear Jesus say, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. Some have suggested that the “needle” referred to a small gate of the city that was sometimes called the “Eye of the needle” through which a camel could only have passed with great difficulty. Whether this is true or not, Jesus is speaking to a danger found in wealth; the danger that possessions can possess our souls, enslaving them.
What is really important in life? What is central? I have sometimes thought that the moment of death is the truest moment in life. Only in that moment is the heart and center of life clearly seen. At that moment, do we want to be surrounded by our stocks and retirement funds being held by our accountant? Of course not! Rather we want to be surrender by those whom we love and be filled with peace in the knowledge that God is the center of my life.
When the disciples asked, “Who can be saved?” Jesus’ response was, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” In these simple words, Jesus is calling us to turn to the Lord; to open our hearts and minds to his Grace. He is looking upon us with love; he is calling us to follow him as a disciples; he is inviting us into the joy of letting his heavenly Father be number One in our lives. Remember, all things are possible for God.