28th Sunday Year B
For the words of God to touch my heart, I need the wisdom to forego my earthly attachment.
Is there a famous person in history that you admire? What does the world do when an admired person passes away? They compile the life stories and famous quotes from the person into books and web sites. They form societies promoting the beliefs and causes of that person. We do the same with an admired person in our families. We retell the stories and sayings of that person to younger generations, so that we can continue to grow in wisdom by the life, teachings and examples of the person.
It is the same with God. In Old Testament time, many holy men and women were inspired by God and recorded down His teachings and His deeds. In New Testament times, the disciples of Jesus did the same with Jesus’s teachings and deeds. Other disciples like St Paul, St Peter and St John authored letters that were passed down the generations. Hence, we call the Bible the written words of God. Like the words of a famous person in history, we ought to treasure these writings and grow in wisdom through them. Especially for us Christians, the Bible ought to be the most treasured book on our book shelves. But in truth, many of us do not treasure the Bible. We hear passages of Bible read out to us often, through church services, talks and sermons. But the irony is that, because we hear the text of Bible read out to us so often, we become numbed and accustomed. Indeed, familiarity breeds contempt.
But the Bible is more than just a historical recording of God’s teachings and deeds. It is in fact God’s living words. As St Paul said in the Second Reading, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart”. But most of us are not moved when we read the Bible, or when the Bible is read to us? Why? It is because we erect barriers, consciously or subconsciously, that while the words of the Bible can reach our eyes and our ears, it cannot reach our hearts. What are some of these barriers?
For some of us, it is familiarity. As mentioned earlier, familiarity breeds contempt. We are so used to the stories and teachings that the words do not draw our attention. We block the words from our consciousness whenever we encounter the Bible. So we ask ourselves: What is blocking the words of God from my heart? For some of us, it is sin. My sin of pride tells me that is a sign of weakness if I let the words of the Bible move me. I tell myself that others will see how inadequate I am if I let the words change me. Another manifestation of pride is when I so scrupulously study the theology of the Bible that it only feeds my head but not my heart. Head knowledge is but cerebral knowledge. It does not change my life. Taken to the extreme, I become so proud of my intellect that I close our heart to God’s transforming words. Then there is the sin of anger. Some of us harbour past hurt. My sin of anger is so overwhelming. I am angry at those who wronged me; and I am angry at God for letting bad things happen to me or my loved ones. So I turn away from His words in protest. Then there are those of us who are materialistic. I am so consumed by the sins of greed and envy that I prioritise all other earthly pursuits over God’s words. I do not make time for God. I am always too busy with work, studies, socialising, sports, entertainment, leisure, and so on. But Jesus said, “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33).
This was what happen to the man in the Gospel this week. He was not a bad person. In fact, as he told Jesus, he has been a scrupulous follower of the Commandments since he was a young man (verse 19-20). However, in spite of him being a good person, a rich person and a follower of the Commandment, there is something missing in his life. He was not happy and he did not know what it is that he lacks. Like many of us, his secular pursuits became a barrier such that Jesus’ words could not enter his heart. Jesus’ instruction to the man was simple: he need to free himself of his attachment (verse 21). But alas, the man could not do that. So he “went away grieving” (verse 22). The story ends on a tragic note.
Jesus then went on to tell the disciples the parable of the camel and the eye of the needle. In ancient times, the eye of the needle is a small back opening in the city wall, used as a shortcut by merchants and their camels to enter the city. However, because of the relatively small size of opening, merchants often have to unload their camels before the animal could fit through the opening. Figuratively, the unloading of the camel is like us unloading the baggages we carry. These baggages are the barriers that prevent the Bible from touching our hearts. Like the man in the Gospel story, unless I can detach ourselves from these baggages, I too will go away grieving. My brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves: what is it that I have to unload in order for God’s words to touch my heart?
We must pray for wisdom. We need wisdom to be able to let go of our barriers, so that we may invite God’s in. The First Reading is a hymn of King Solomon to God, in praise of wisdom. “I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me” (verse 7). When that happens, I will wonder why I did not get it before, when it is something so simple. To the author, God’s wisdom is more precious that gem, gold, silver, and yes, even health and beauty. It is only then we understand what true wealth is. As the Second Reading teaches us, “All good things came to me along with her, and in her hands uncounted wealth” (verse 11)
Is my heart ready to accept God’s word? As Jesus looked upon the rich man lovingly in the Gospel (verse 21), he is casting the same loving gaze upon you and me. Gaze back at Jesus lovingly. He is urging us to forego our earthly baggages and follow him. What is my response?