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?


  1. The Rich young man is a favorite story of mine as it is recorded in all the three synoptic gospels and leads to the famous line "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle....
    Until I learned that the eye of the needle is neither a mountain pass nor a small gate but a 'rope' possibly made out of camel hair .. The camel is but a hyperbole for the impossible.
    No less difficult is today's passage exhorting us to be constantly aware to remember to direct our senses to the very source of our being. Distractions are aplenty and the tide of life carries us away from the source.
    Time for prayer and reflection helps me to reconnect. A good book or inspiring blog are added tools.
    Thanks for your daily offering.

  2. How might we find ways to remember and remain in touch with the Ultimate Source of our existence, the only Giver of all that is good?

    This morning I started a Week of Guided Prayer at Holy Cross on a note of complaint about a long-standing problem. My prayer guide asked me to next pray over Philippians 4:6-9 and advised me to "in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God", in other words, "to approach everything and everyone with a heart full of thanks to our Lord". I said it's going to be really difficult with this particular issue, especially when something bad had just happened.

    However, this advice had set me thinking and reflecting over the passage as I worked throughout the day. And now, just after a close shave (too long to elaborate here), I realise (and not only understand) its wisdom.

    Deo gracias!

  3. We in merit-ocratic Singapore have been conditioned to look after our own interests through working hard, sometimes at the expense of all else, especially the intangibles such as raising a family. Our mantra is "If do 'x' the gahmen will give me 'y'. Or I invest 'a' so I can gain 'b' - today!

    When one has achieved so much, it is very difficult to think of The Source. It is easier to take Him for granted - until misfortune visits. Can you blame The Source then for sometimes allowing tragedy to strike so His creatures can turn back to Him, even for a moment?

    I am an ardent adherent of the Buddhist tenet of detachment because it has helped me put my life in perspective. Jesus Himself taught this time and again. A detached person is someone in control. With a sense of detachment, one views events in one's life dispassionately and so is more ready to ascribe both good and bad to The Ultimate Source Who is in all and above all.

  4. With a sense of detachment, one views events in one's life dispassionately and so is more ready to ascribe both good and bad to The Ultimate Source Who is in all and above all.

    Er, Anonymous 3: I thought God is "the Ultimate Source of our existence, the only Giver of all that is good", and not of "bad" things. He permits them to happen, but does not causes them to happen?