Goods or Grace?

October 10, 2021 | N W | Eternal Life, Grace, Guest Deacons, Holy Spirit, Humility, Prayer, Wisdom

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 10, 2021 – Year B
Readings: Wis 7:7-11 / Ps 90 / Heb 4:12-13 / Mk 10:17-30
by Deacon Barry Welch, Guest Homilist

Today’s gospel acclamation, the part within the Alleluia, is this: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”? It means that we understand a fundamental truth: that none of us is responsible for our own existence, nor are we responsible for our continued existence.  Someone else is responsible for that, and we know who that is: God.  We need Him.  He didn’t need us, and yet out of love, He created the whole world, and out of love, He put us in it. And remember, “It was good.”

The world and its treasures aren’t bad or evil.  Remember that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, who came into the world, into the creation, to save it, to make it holy.  And He experienced life just the way we do: living and breathing, walking, talking, smelling, touching, tasting – just the same way we do.

God doesn’t want us just to survive in this creation, in this beauty, in this love that’s put here for us.  He wants us to thrive.

The world is good, but we are fallen, we’re broken. All of us.  And in our brokenness, we tend to put a lot of emphasis on our own role in the world, and our own role in that thriving that he wants for us. And in doing that, we attach ourselves too closely to the things of this world.  In our brokenness, we find security in those things.  We feel like we can rely on them, and we place our hope and our faith in the illusion of being self-sufficient and in control.

Whether we have many possessions or only a few, our desire to put ourselves first and our desire to accumulate more things of this world, is a balm for our false sense of security.

That’s what puts us at odds with God’s loving plan for us.  Poor in spirit: It’s the opposite of self-righteous and self-reliance. It’s recognizing that we are not in control, regardless of how smart or skilled or self-motivated or frugal or honest or pious, or how much wealth and possessions and honors and power and influence that we’ve accumulated.

All of that is like nothing, like we heard in the reading from Wisdom: It’s like sand, it’s like dust. All the power and possessions that have ever been throughout history and that ever will be, is like dust to what God has in store for us. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Like that man who ran up to Jesus and asked Him, “What do I need to do for eternal life?”, we’re in a similar predicament. We’re all more or less of the mind that we’re in control, that we create our own destiny. We as Christians are met with this same dilemma, this same choice that the man was given: goods or grace. Which will it be?

Do you remember Monty Hall in Let’s Make a Deal? It was a fantastic game show.  People came in ridiculous costumes, and they’d be called down to be a contestant, and they’d be given an option where they had some goods or some money. They could trade it in for what was in the box or behind the curtain.  That was their dilemma: They didn’t know what was behind Door No. 3.

But in our case, in the gospel reading today, we know what’s behind Door No. 3. We know exactly what it is: eternal life with Jesus Christ.  We know it, and yet still it’s too hard to let go and to let God, isn’t it? It’s really hard. That’s because we’re human, and that’s because, as Jesus said, we can’t do it; it’s impossible.

We can’t do it alone anyway, because we are all big, over-packed camels. We have all of our stuff, all of our baggage, material or not, on our backs, just like a camel, and we want to bring this baggage along with us to the end of the journey.

I know the simile of the camel speaks specifically about material wealth, and it’s true material wealth can be an obstacle for our spiritual growth. But we all must heed this message. Sometimes when we hear the stories Jesus tells, we think, well that doesn’t relate to me. I’m not wealthy; I don’t have a lot of money or houses or stuff. But anytime we hear a parable from Jesus, and it has a generic name, like “the man” or “the woman” or “the rich man,” that message is for all people, all of us. We must heed that message, because all of us have worldly attachments, regardless of whether we’re materially wealthy or not.

Jesus wants us, not the stuff. We can’t do it alone, so I’d like to look to our first reading, from the Book of Wisdom, for guidance. Whenever we’re reading from this beautiful book of the Old Testament, and you hear the word “wisdom,” or as wisdom is referred to in the feminine, “her” or “she” in that book, think Holy Spirit, because that Book of Wisdom is prefiguring the Holy Spirit that descends in the New Testament.

In today’s passage, dealing with this choice that we need to make between goods and grace, the author of Wisdom has three P’s and a choice. First P: pray.  “I prayed, and prudence was given me.” Prudence is good judgment.  Help me make the right decision, God.

The second P is plead. “I pleaded, and the Spirit came to me.” Not only give me good judgment, God, but give me Your Spirit to help me with this choice. Today we might say, “Come, Holy Spirit!”

The third P: prefer. So now the author is, with the good judgment and the help of God in the Holy Spirit, going to make this decision, is going to discern a preference: What do I prefer?  He says, “I prefer the Spirit over power,” which is the scepter and the throne in the reading. He goes on, “I prefer the Spirit over wealth,”  when he talks about jewels and gold and silver being like sand. And then he says, “I prefer the Spirit over attractiveness and adoration and health,” when he says comeliness and beauty and health.

After praying and pleading and making this preference, then the author makes the choice, and he chooses Wisdom, because she will always be with him. She never sleeps. All good things come with her, including countless riches.

Jesus gave up everything, and he asks us to trade everything: If we give up everything, we receive everything, because we receive Him. God doesn’t know how to give anything less than everything. He’s infinite, He’s eternal, and He’s everything in Himself, and He wants us to be with Him in eternal life.  Goods or grace.

Our advice from Wisdom: to pray for prudence; plead for the Holy Spirit; and discern our preference.  Understand that we may remain attached, because we’re human, and that’s ok. We keep trying. We keep praying. We keep pleading, and we keep making our choice to make ourselves come ever closer to that which we truly seek: Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer.  Because His spiritual wealth, what He offers, is infinitely greater than anything we could possibly ever obtain in this world. Remember, all things are possible with God.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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