28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 11, 2015 – Year B
Readings: Wis 7:7-11 / Psalm 90 / Heb 4:12-13 / Mk 10:17-30
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
The older I get, the more it astonishes me how wisdom can often be found in the strangest places. Even if you’ve never watched it, I’m sure most of you are aware of the cartoon that comes on by the name of The Simpsons. It’s actually, I think, the longest running series ever. I remember it first came out when I was in college, many, many, many years ago. And I can’t help but think about one episode. In this episode, Homer, a lovable, bumbling father, really wants a soft drink, but he has no change. So he succumbs to temptation and he tries to steal a drink out of the vending machine. He works and works and works and he gets his hand up into the drink machine and he finally grabs the can. But then he tries to pull it out and he discovers that his arm is stuck. He starts freaking out. His friends run off and abandon him. And he actually drags the drink machine, trying to find someone to help him. But then he sees a candy machine, and he succumbs to temptation again, and with his other arm, he tries to steal a candy bar. And he works and he works and he works and he finally grabs hold of the candy bar, only to discover that now both arms are stuck. So long story short, eventually rescue workers show up, and after questioning him and trying to decide what they are going to do, one of them finally comes up with an idea, and he looks at Homer and says, “Are you still holding the can and the candy bar? Let go of them!” And he does and surprisingly, his arms are free, and he goes away.
Now the man in today’s Gospel is actually suffering from the same thing that was afflicting Homer. He finds it impossible to let go. Like many of his friends of that day, he saw his possessions, his wealth, as proof that he had found favor with God. He wants to do good; he wants eternal life, but something is holding him back. He can’t let go. Jesus sees this and challenges him. The guy’s actually doing really well. If you look, he has followed almost all the Commandments all of his life. But he’s fallen short on the two most important ones, namely: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. His things are getting in the way of his salvation. Jesus asks him to take the final step. Now, we know that that day he failed. Who knows, maybe down the road he got past it. We will never know because it’s not reported in the Scriptures.
Jesus is not saying that possessions, in and of themselves, are bad. There were quite a few of Jesus’s followers who were quite wealthy. Think of Zacchaeus and Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, just to name a few. But the difference with them is that when Jesus called them, they were able to put things into perspective. They were able to let go. Their wealth did not stand in the way of where they needed to go. We can often have the same problem. How often do things stand in the way? How often do we put things before God in our lives? St. Augustine put it this way; he says when you come close to grasping the object of your desire, it immediately starts losing its charm, because the things of this world are fleeting. They’re not bad, but they need to be in their proper place. We need to seek balance. We need to realize that things, regardless of what they are, are meant for the service of the Kingdom of God. We need to be in the world, but not of the world.
This concept of setting aside things, putting them in their proper perspective so that we can achieve the Kingdom of God, is often called “Holy Indifference.” St. Ignatius of Loyola put it this way. He said we should have a complete indifference with regard to all created things. Not preferring health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to humiliation, long life to a short one. We should wish only for those conditions that will aid our pursuit of the goal for which we have been created… and that goal is to spend eternity with God.
This concept can be difficult to understand. It helps to talk about what Holy Indifference is not. Holy Indifference is not apathy. It’s not an attitude of, “Meh, whatever.” Holy Indifference is not blind optimism; we are not called to be Pollyannas. Holy Indifference is not action without the consideration of the consequences. Holy Indifference is peaceful acceptance, realistic expectations, and careful consideration. Holy Indifference is handing all things over to God, but helping out in any way that we can. Holy Indifference can also be described in the words of St. John Paul the Great: trusting that there are no coincidences, only aspects of God’s providence not yet revealed.
Now if you’re confused, don’t feel bad. This is a difficult concept to understand and it’s an even more difficult concept to put into practice. Many of the Saints struggled their whole lives with this. St. Ignatius, when he came up with this idea, still had trouble putting it into practice. Even St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, tells us that he suffered from some malady. He doesn’t specify what it is, and he prayed three times that God would take it away from him. But God didn’t. We don’t know why and neither did St. Paul. But eventually, Paul was able to find peace. Eventually he was able to say, “I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, I am strong.” If we love Jesus and if we place him before all the things that we have, and if we put all of these things at his service in spite of the challenges that we face, we too can accept this mindset. Not on our own, because that would be impossible, but because nothing is impossible with God.