Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
October, 14, 2012
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Mark 10:21
St. Thomas Aquinas remarks that we are tempted to replace God with four things: fame, pleasure, power and wealth. I think this is so true. These are the four that can attract us away from God, in fact replace him in our affections. Notice I say “can,” because it doesn’t have to be this way. Let us explore one of these temptations as presented to us in the Gospel today.
Wealth is what takes the rich man in the Gospel away from Jesus. “[W]hat must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). The question of the rich man in the Gospel is not uncommon. It is not unique to him. We ask it all the time. And Jesus answers it is always with a challenge. In fact Jesus saved his harshest words for those who refused to be challenged.
To those who neglect to feed the hungry or clothe the naked, He would say, “Depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). Truthfully, most of what Jesus taught was a challenge. He would warn us often with a question. “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?” (Luke 6:47). Christian morality inevitably is a denial of self. So the rich man, who seems to have done nothing to break any commandment, receives a challenge, a challenge to depart from self, “to go the extra mile.”
Jesus tells the rich man that what he needs to do is sell all he owns and give it to the poor (Mark 10:21). All he owns will belong to those who need it, since he does not. Divested of worldly concerns, he can then witness to his complete dependence on God. Then, he will have treasure in heaven and can follow Jesus. The rich man, while obedient to the commandments, cannot do this. His wealth has replaced God.
God asks us continually to lay aside the fame, pleasure, power and wealth that take His place. When confronted with this challenge, we are tempted to ask the question of the disciples, “Then who can be saved?” (Mark 10:26). The disciples seem to be saying, aren’t fame, pleasure, power and wealth a part of life? Don’t we need them? And Jesus seems to be answering that nothing is more valuable than God.
Not too long ago Cardinal Dolan reflected on the state of our culture. He said he was “concerned about a culture that has become increasingly callous about the radical abortion license, and a legal system that affords more protection to endangered species of plants and animals than to unborn babies; that considers pregnancy a disease.” He was equally concerned about a culture that reduced “religious freedom to a kind of privacy right to recreational activities.” He was additionally “bothered by the prospect of this generation leaving a mountain of unpayable debt to its children and grandchildren,” “whose… futures will be blighted” by servicing a debt. And there was reason to be concerned, he added, when those who call for fiscal responsibility are branded as insensitive to the poor. At the same time, we should not be “tempted to write off the underprivileged as problems to be solved, or as budget woes, rather than treating them with respect and dignity…” (Timothy Cardinal Dolan, October 5, 2012). In short, our priorities are not right.
We have selfishly embraced the pursuit of fame, pleasure, power, and wealth without regard for anything else. When these replace God in our lives, the problem begins. In and of themselves, there is something neutral about them because we can all experience them in the course of our lives. The athlete who wins the game for the team achieves fame. A business owner can increase his profits by running a good business that meets the needs of his customers. A government official exercises power to serve the citizens and the common good. We experience a great deal of pleasure by enjoying beauty. None of this is what the Gospels warn us against. Instead, our Lord knew that if we seek God above all things, then everything in our lives is balanced and placed in perspective. If we lose sight of our goal, then fame, pleasure, power and wealth become ends in themselves. They are pursued for our own selfish ends.
Jesus sums it up rather well. “All things are possible for God” (Mark 10:27). A society and culture that has lost sight of this fundamental premise is at risk. It will fill the vacuum created by a loss of God with fleeting things that are here today and gone tomorrow, with goals that have no lasting worth. If Jesus challenged us to nothing else, He challenged us to this—to trust in God. It was to this that He challenged the rich man in the Gospel. Jesus was saddened to see him leave because he had many possessions. The rich man had replaced God with his wealth. And when we do that, we lose something truly valuable.