Monday, August 18, 2008
Monday in the 20th Week of Ordinary Time
Remembering the Source
Readings: Ezekiel 24:15-23; Deuteronomy 32:18-19, 20, 21; Matthew 19:16-22
Picture: CC radcarper
Imagine a people living along a mighty river. For as long as they can remember, the river has always been there. As children, they play along its banks and swim in its waters. As adults, they irrigate their fields and feed their families from its bounty. And, as their civilization develops, the people gradually learn to harness the river’s power. They learn to build dams and to change the course of the river’s flow. As time goes on, some of the people also begin to appropriate stretches of the river as their own. They begin to lay claim to, as well as to trade in, its benefits. The unscrupulous ones do this at others’ expense. They care only for themselves and exclude the poor and the powerless. The more virtuous ones try to be charitable with what they possess. But both virtuous and vicious alike can’t quite escape the seductive idea that the river and its contents actually belong to them. Then, one day, disaster strikes. Something happens at the river’s source and the waters gradually run dry. Only then do the people come to remember that the river was never really solely their possession. Even though they had learnt how to harness its power and harvest its fruit, it was never really totally under their control.
Something like this realization is what Jesus is helping the rich young man to arrive at in today’s gospel. Listening to the conversation between them, it’s tempting to think only in terms of a commercial or even charitable transaction. It’s as though a social worker or missionary was asking a rich person to give more of his/ her material possessions to charity, in exchange for spiritual wealth. But isn’t there something far more profound going on? In asking Jesus what he must do to attain eternal life, the rich young man is obviously thinking only in terms of merit. I do x and God will give me y. Or I invest a in order to reap the benefit b. Underlying this approach is the same attitude that the people living by the river have – the idea that our lives actually belong to us. Instead, in asking him to sell everything, Jesus proposes a radically different perspective. This is already clearly seen in Jesus’ initial response to the man’s question. Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. By these words, isn’t Jesus attempting to shift the man’s attention from the many good things he thinks he owns to the Giver of all that is good? Isn’t Jesus ever so subtly reminding the man of something he seems to have forgotten – that the river of his life and all its contents, including even his virtuous actions, does not really belong to him, that everything he is and has is a gift from an ultimate Source? In the words of the response to the psalm: You have forgotten God who gave you birth…
But the man goes away sad, because he isn't quite ready to make the shift in his thinking. He hasn’t quite come to the realization that everything – yes, even eternal life – is gift. Perhaps what he needs is the hard lesson that God offers the people through the prophet Ezekiel in the first reading. Here, a parallel is drawn between the death of Ezekiel’s wife and the impending desecration of the Temple. It’s as if God proposes to stop the flow of the life-giving waters of a mighty and beloved river, so as to enable the people to remember its Source. Sometimes, it’s only when we actually lose something that we realize what a precious a gift it was.
Do we need to wait for such drastic reminders in our own lives? Or should we not rather try to find ways to remember and remain in touch with the Ultimate Source of our existence, the only Giver of all that is good?
How might we continue to do this today?
Posted by Fr Chris at 10:49 am