Sunday, October 11, 2009

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Moving House

Readings: Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30 or 10:17-27
Picture: cc hagwall

Sisters and brothers, do you like to travel? Many of us do. Traveling broadens our horizons. We get to visit new places, to see new sights, to meet new people. But no matter how far we go, how many great sights we see, or how many interesting people we meet, we usually get a special feeling when we return home, don’t we? It doesn’t matter how much fun we’ve had on the road. There’s almost a kind of relief, when we’re able to settle back into familiar surroundings, to put up our feet after snuggling into our favorite chair, to shut our eyes in the warmth of our own bed. Finally, we’re home!

And all of us have a home of some sort, don’t we? It doesn’t matter if work commitments mean that we often have to live out of a suitcase. Nor does it matter even if we don’t actually have a roof over our heads. For a home doesn’t really have to be a physical location. As the saying goes, home is where the heart is. And the human heart has a marvelous capacity for making its home in all sorts of different places. Sometimes home is an object or a memory. Sometimes it takes the form of a person or an activity. Whatever it is, we all have a home of some sort, a (literal or figurative) place, where our hearts find rest.

But, of course, we’re not always aware of this, are we? We don’t always know exactly where our home is. Especially if we tend to wander around a lot, we can often fail to recognize the exact place where our hearts prefer to rest. Which can be dangerous, because our chosen homes are not always the best places to be. Sometimes, for example, some of us may find our home in a bottle of pills or liquor, or in the screen of a slot machine or a computer, or in various unhealthy eating or working habits. Remaining in such homes is highly detrimental to our wellbeing, as well as to the wellbeing of those who love us. Common sense dictates that, if we live in homes like these, and if we want to enjoy a fuller life, then we have to move. But that is often much easier said than done.

Which brings us to a question that today’s gospel reading poses to us. To the man who at first seems to have everything a person could need or want, Jesus says, there is one thing you lack. But what is this one thing? We may imagine that this was also the question at the top of the rich man’s mind. I’ve kept all the commandments. What could I possibly lack?

If we take this question as the central focus of the passage, then what Jesus asks of the rich man begins to make a lot of sense. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me. For notice the effect that this apparently demanding – if not downright unreasonable – request has on the man. Of course, we don’t know for sure exactly what was going on in his mind. All the gospel tells us is that his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. But perhaps it is not too difficult to imagine what lay behind his disappointment. Perhaps it's possible to imagine that Jesus’ words actually helped the man to recognize for himself the place that he called home. As a result of Jesus’ call, the man finally began to see the extent to which his heart was resting in his many possessions. And not just his material possessions, all of which Jesus wanted him to sell and give to the poor. But also his moral possessions, all the commandments that he prided himself in having observed from his youth. From these too, he was to detach himself, if he wanted to inherit eternal life. Not that he was to stop keeping the Law, but that he would no longer rely on its observance for his salvation, but on his following of the Lord.

And this, of course, brings to mind what the second reading tells us about the word of God being living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating between soul and spirit, joints and marrow… to discern the reflections and thoughts of the heart. With just a few carefully chosen words, Jesus, the Word Made Flesh, penetrates the heart of the rich man, uncovering his deepest desires, and helping him to see the place he calls home.

But that’s not all. In addition, Jesus also shows the rich man how detrimental this home of his can be to his own spiritual wellbeing. For in choosing to rest in his many possessions instead of following Jesus, the man was doing the exact opposite of what the first reading tells us a spiritually astute person would do. As we heard just now, the spirit of wisdom is to be preferred over scepter and throne… all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire… So that to choose possessions over Jesus, gold over the Wisdom of God, is the same as to prefer the worthless over the priceless, the passing over that which endures. It is to make a foolish choice, a dangerous choice. All of which meant one thing for the rich man: it was time for him to move, to change his home. But that’s much easier said than done. And so, we’re told, he went away sad.

Speaking for myself, it’s not too difficult to identify with the rich man. It’s not too difficult to imagine oneself in the position of knowing what has to be done, and yet still be unwilling, even unable, to do it. We all know, for example, the damage being done to the earth by our current patterns of energy consumption. And yet, how difficult it is to move out of this comfortable home that we have made for ourselves. How hard it is to take the bus instead of drive, or to use a fan instead of the A/C. What Jesus tells the rich man applies as well to us: there’s one thing you lack… You’re unable to move, even when you know you need to.

In contrast, in the gospels, we find Jesus continually on the move. Today’s reading, for example, begins by telling us that he was setting out on a journey. And we know where his journeying would lead him: to Calvary and beyond. Jesus is able to do this because, unlike the rich man, he makes his home not in possessions, but in his Father’s will. His heart rests in his Father’s love.

According to a Chinese legend, when the sage Mencius was a boy, his mother moved house three times. Their first home was near a cemetery. And little Mencius would imitate the wailing of the mourners passing by. Their second home was near an abattoir. And the boy mimicked the shrieking of the animals as they were being slaughtered. Finally, they found a place by a school. And the boy began to follow the lessons that were being recited by the students. Only then did his mother finally settle down. It must not have been easy to move house so often. But for the love of her son, the wise mother was willing and able to suffer the inconvenience.

Perhaps it’s for this same kind of wisdom, the wisdom born of love, that we too need to pray, as did that person in the first reading, who said, I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.

Sisters and brothers where exactly do we find our home? How willing and able are we to move if we have to?


  1. You bring to mind the axiom “A house is not a Home”. In my lifetime, we move around a bit from place to place but each time we inhabit a place, we turn it into a home; leaving our imprints, creating memories, fabricating comfort factors which identify this is my Home.
    The rich young man’s natural response brings to mind Mat 16:26 “For what doth it profit a man if he should gain the world but suffer the loss of his soul”. It takes great Wisdom and fortitude just to contemplate the consequence of such a request (command). Years of comfort building, striving, achieving, attaining, realizing our worth, then to distribute them away?
    Following Jesus is a tough order and the only way to eternal life is through Him. So what are the options? Charity begins at home so perhaps that’s where I will begin.
    To be at rest, as defined by St. Augustine, is a reminder we forget at our own peril.

  2. Talking about home made me think of my parish church, and how hard it is to attend another church even though I can't stand my parish priest (I hope he doesn't read this blog ..)
    In a way, your parish is kind of a home. It where you grow up, attend catechism, marriages, baptisms and funerals. You go every week and usually sit at your favourite spot. You tend to meet the same few people who also like to sit around you.
    Home is an attachment, and you don't feel the same when you're somewhere else. When I attend Mass somewhere else, I feel like I'm a visitor and it's a transition. I go back to my parish and I'm more comfortable again.

  3. I really appreciate this simple, yet penetrating homily that hits home (to where the heart is).

    Coincidentally, I've been drawn to Romans 12:2, and wonder how to keep letting go of what is "good and pleasing" to make room for what is "perfect" in God's will for me.

    Ultimately, we cannot have full knowledge of God's perfect will ahead of time, and hence resist/fear letting go; but suffice to say (with faith) that it will be more glorious than what we can ever imagine. For this hope, it is worth trading all current possessions (including existing spiritual blessings) for the treasure yet to be seen.

    Shalom :)

  4. Talking about moving. The office is also like a "second home" since we spend so much of our waking hours there.
    Not to justify me moving on but the part about Mencius and his mother moving till he found a good environment for learning and growth hits home, as I'm about to embark on a new career/direction.
    I've been praying really hard about this and asking God for direction too. So far it's been going smoothly and I'm on to my final interview.

    I've had several jobs now since leaving law school some 15 yrs ago. Each one gave a chance to learn new things, make friendships and took me on to the next stage in career/life. Sometimes, we need to get out of our comfort zone.

  5. I was quite old when I realized that a house is not always a home...