28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Bishop of Lake Charles
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 11, 2009
Our Lady of the Lake Church, Lake Arthur
“For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.” Mark 10:27
Much ink has been spilt on explaining the first half of the Gospel for today. Taken from St. Mark 10, it describes a wealthy man who asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). That St. Mark tells us the man runs up to Jesus (Mark 10:17) indicates that he is filled with enthusiasm. He cannot wait to do more. Jesus answers his question by saying that one must follow the commandments. The wealthy man answers that he has done so since his youth. This, in and of itself, challenges our belief. How could someone have been so good from the beginning? If we take what he says at face value, then he is indeed exceptional. Jesus will now challenge this exceptional man. He says, “You are lacking in 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). This the wealthy man cannot do. He has been challenged beyond his ability. His face fell and went away sad.
The rich man was challenged beyond his ability to say “yes.” And I think this is certainly one major lesson of this Gospel. If it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God, then we are dealing with an act that is only “possible for God” (Mark 10:27). As the disciples ask, “Then who can be saved?” (Mark 10:26). The Kingdom of God is precisely a gift. To sell all we have to possess treasure in heaven is an act that only God can make possible. Jesus had issued an invitation to the wealthy man. All he had to do was ask God to make it possible. Of course, left to his own, he could not say “yes.” He could not have given away anything on his own, but God could have made it possible.
In our effort to live the Gospel, God always challenges us to do more to enter the Kingdom. Left to ourselves we cannot answer the challenge. Therefore, for this reason, many of us settle into mediocrity. I would like to speak about my experience as a pastor.
Over the years, after prayerful consideration, I have recognized that some parishioner was able to answer a need for the Church. Perhaps it was teaching catechism, perhaps leading a particular ministry, maybe working with the poor or with the youth of the parish. When I asked, often the response was, “Let me pray about it.” This translated meant “no.” On rare occasions, a person answered, “Well, I never saw myself doing that, but if you think so, God will provide. Yes, I’ll do it.” Now, I am not saying that I, as pastor, had a “fast track” on what God’s will was. However, I saw a need for the good of the Church and the Kingdom, and I saw someone who could fulfill that need. So I asked. In this way the church parish was left with religious education directors, RCIA directors, sacristans, religion teachers, and homebound visitors who are still doing good work because, we pray, they are doing God’s will.
What did the response require of the respondent? It required a deep faith that “… there is no one who has given up house or brother or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come” (Mark 10:29-30). All it takes is “yes”, and not “yes” because we think we can do it, but because we know God can do it.
How often have I, as a pastor and now a bishop, fallen to my knees in the chapel and said to God, “You know I have no training in this. When I was ordained, I never thought I would face this challenge. What am I suppose to do? You tell me, because I do not have a clue.” As a pastor, at various times, I had to know something about accounting, maintenance, dealing with contractors, raising funds, settling personnel disputes, and crisis management. I can assure you, they never taught any of this to us in the seminary. No, I had to turn it over to God, whatever it was. Then, I think of parents. When parents have their first child, what do they know about raising children? They turn it over to God, they use their common sense, they ask their parents what to do, and they figure it out with God’s help.
Perhaps, if the rich man in the Gospel had done the same, then he could have answered “yes.” Perhaps, when I mentioned the priesthood to a young man, he would not have answered, “I’m keeping my options open.” Perhaps, when I asked someone to teach catechism, she would not have said, “I already have too much to do.”
“For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God” (Mark 10:27). This Gospel teaches about detachment and poverty. Ultimately, however, it is lesson in a profound trust in God’s ability to help make all things possible.