One of the topics that my English language teacher in High Elementary school taught was Correlative Constructions used in positive or negative comparisons, such as, “as sweet as honey,” “as white as snow,” “as black as charcoal,” and then, “as wise as Solomon.” The first reading today suggests why we use that positive comparison “as wise as Solomon.” Solomon was a king faced with a choice between wisdom and wealth, both of which are alluring. In every line of the first reading he expressed why he preferred wisdom to wealth, thrones, health, and beauty. His election of wisdom over trifles calls us to be sharp-eyed about eternal choices.
Someone told me this story a few months ago. I don’t remember the details, but I think I was able to pick the central message as to be able to retell it. Some of you may know the story better. It was about a family visited by three guests—one was wealth, the other was beauty, and the third was love. As the story went, the house owner was to choose from among the three whom to take into her home. Without hesitation, she invited love, and the other two followed love inside. She asked why and was told that love attracted the rest because love always attracts other blessings. Wealth and beauty do not thrive overtime without love. Those who married for beauty/wealth can attest to this.
The rich man of today’s gospel who represents the world wasn’t a bad person, in the way we conceptualize ‘bad’ or ‘good.’ He wasn’t lying when he said that he kept the whole law. Many of us would feel disgruntled to learn that keeping the whole law, both of God and country, wouldn’t qualify us for heaven. No criminal record, no traffic offence, no tax violations. You are by the records “a good American.” More so, you tithe to your Church, have kept all Church precepts (for them)—yet no hope?. You wonder, like the apostles—“Who then can be saved?” The right question should be the one that the rich young man asked: “What is lacking in me?”
God who made and equipped us with His grace cast a gaze of divine love on the young man, asking him to return that love by surrendering his earthly attachments and place himself in solidarity with the poor (Healy). The rich young man failed the love test because he knew something was missing in his life—“all these I have kept from my youth; what more need I do” (Mk 10:20)—yet, when Jesus directs his gaze toward the answer which his heart longs, he walks away. In contrast to the rich young man, Francis of Assisi heard the same call to sell everything and follow Christ; he left home and a comfortable career to follow Christ in the exercise of evangelical poverty.
Don’t get frightened that you could be the next person whom Jesus would ask to abandon everything and follow him. God doesn’t issue the same invitation to all. He calls some to serve as His priests and others in the monastery or nunnery; yet, many are to serve from their homes in the world as soldiers, teachers, doctors, fire-fighters, lawyers, housewives, etc. Nevertheless, total detachment from one’s possessions is demanded of all. If you are passionate about eternal life, you must look beyond the comfort of earthly wealth, so to elect heaven.
Money is not man’s ultimate goal. Wealth often generates a sense of false security blocking the road to heaven, especially when the wealthy become self-indulgent, arrogant, and inconsiderate to the needs of the poor. This applies both to wealthy individuals and nations. Conferences called to help poor nations often cost more in organization and logistics than actual proceeds to the poor. The same is true of the so-called charities that become havens for tax-cheats. Charity does not admit of delay. We are not owners but stewards of any material goods we have. The call today is to eschew the culture of consumerism and reach out to the poor, the sick, and the stranger (CCC, 2404-5).
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo