Sunday, October 14, 2012

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Scanned Unto Salvation

Readings: Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 89:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30
Picture: cc Cataract_eye

Sisters and brothers, have you ever been for a medical check-up? Have you ever had to undergo a blood test, or a body scan, or some other type of diagnostic procedure? How did you feel? Or how do you feel when you even think of the possibility of having to undergo a test like that? Do you like it? Welcome it? Eagerly look forward to it? If you’re like me, you don’t. And the reasons are obvious. For one thing, medical tests are often uncomfortable. I remember once having to go for a gastric endoscope. Although the procedure itself was relatively quick and painless–since I was put to sleep–the preparation for it was highly unpleasant. There were large quantities of a horrible-tasting liquid that I had to drink. After which, I spent most of the night in the restroom. Not fun at all.

But discomfort is not the only reason why we prefer to avoid medical tests. There’s another, perhaps even stronger, reason. It’s the same reason that keeps many of us from going to the doctor even when we experience medical symptoms of some kind. When we discover a suspicious-looking lump on some part of the body, for example. Or when we cough up blood. Or when we experience persistent shortness of breath. Faced with symptoms like these, why don’t we all head straight for the doctor without delay? Why do many of us hesitate? Why don’t we want to go for the tests and scans that would tell us for sure what, if anything, is wrong with us? Why? Quite apart from the money we may have to spend, is it not because we’re afraid of what might be uncovered? We don’t really want to know whether or not we’re sick. We prefer ignorance to knowledge, because, as they say, ignorance is bliss. We avoid medical tests because we’re afraid of the truth. And if we do this even when we are faced with clear signs that we might be ill, how much more do we avoid going for routine medical checks when everything seems to be well.

Which is why I find myself admiring that rich man in the gospel today.  Yes, I admire him. Even though he failed to answer the call of Christ. Even though we’re told that he went away sad. Of course, it’s not his failure or his sadness that I admire. What I admire is his courage. For this man seemed to be in the pink of spiritual health. He was able to tell Jesus, in all honesty, that he had kept all the commandments from his earliest days. He was quite obviously a good man. So good that he aroused the Lord’s affection. We’re told that Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him. We can imagine then that, prior to meeting the Lord, this man had probably not been experiencing any symptoms of spiritual illness. There was probably no indication that he needed to go for a medical check-up, or to take a blood test, or to undergo a scan of some sort. And yet, isn’t this exactly what he put himself through?

The gospel tells us that, of his own free will, this man ran up to Jesus, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ By asking this question, and then by humbly submitting himself to the penetrating gaze of Jesus, this rich man was actually allowing himself to undergo a spiritual screening. He was courageously placing himself under the bright light of God’s Word-Made-Flesh. And the second reading tells us just how powerful and effective this Light is. Just how perceptive this Word can be. The word of God is something alive and active, we’re told. It can judge secret emotions and thoughts. No created thing can hide from him; everything is uncovered… And it is precisely under this powerful scan that the good man’s one weakness is revealed. He is too attached to his wealth. Not just to his material wealth–his money and his property. But also to his moral wealth–his own piety, his own virtue, his own goodness. He finds it difficult to let all these things go in order to follow Christ. Not that he should stop being pious and virtuous and good. What the man finds difficult to do is to stop building his spiritual life on these riches of his. To stop trying to save himself. But, rather, to enter into an intimate personal relationship with Jesus. Surrendering to the Lord control over his own life. This, the man is unable to do. He cannot let go of his riches. He cannot relinquish control. As a result he goes away sad.

And yet, isn’t it also true that, as he walks away, the rich man experiences something more than just sadness? Doesn’t he also experience enlightenment? After his encounter with Christ, after having undergone a spiritual scan, the man now knows something that he didn’t know before. He now has a better appreciation of the truth of his own spiritual condition. He now realises that he is unable to inherit eternal life simply by relying on his own goodness. He now knows that it is insufficient just to keep struggling on his own to keep the commandments. He also needs, above all, to rely on the help that God is making available to him in Christ Jesus the Lord. Which is why, it is perhaps not too farfetched for us to think that, later in life, this rich man did finally find the strength to do what he failed to do when he was younger. For, as he continued to grow in the knowledge of his own weakness, isn’t it likely that he would eventually turn to God for help? Isn’t it likely that he would finally recognise what Jesus tells us in the gospel? That what may be impossible for human beings is possible for God. For everything is possible for God.

But that’s not all. Courage is not the only quality that I find attractive in the rich man. There is another. I admire the man’s deep desire, his profound yearning, for the truth. It is this same desire that we find described in our first reading. I prayed, the writer says, and understanding was given me; I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me. I esteemed her more than sceptres and thrones; compared with her, I held riches as nothing. Didn’t the rich man have something of this desire? Wasn’t it his yearning for the spirit of Wisdom that led him to kneel uncomfortably before Jesus in the first place? Wasn’t it his desire for the truth that led him to endure the embarrassment of having his weakness uncovered in such a public manner? So that even if, at that particular point in his life, he still wasn’t ready to give up all his earthly treasures, it is likely that, later on in life, his desire for truth would finally lead him to succeed where once he had failed. Provided, of course, that he kept cultivating that desire. Continued to feed it. To pray out of it. To allow it to lead him again to Jesus.

And what about us, sisters and brothers? We who may or may not be experiencing symptoms of spiritual illness. Don’t we also need to come before the Lord Jesus to have him tell us what we must do to inherit eternal life? And isn’t this precisely what we are being invited to do in this Year of Faith? As individuals and as a community, we are being encouraged to take the necessary steps to draw closer to Christ. To deepen our relationship with Him through prayer and the study of the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church. To place every aspect of our lives under the brilliant light of Christ, as the rich man did. And there to allow Christ to reveal to us the truth of our spiritual condition. But, for us to do this, we must first ask God to increase in us those two qualities of the rich man that are so admirable. His courage and his desire for the truth.

Sisters and brothers, do you find this courage and this desire in your own heart? How ready are you for a spiritual scan today?


  1. Like the rich man, I am attached to material things which are a hindrance to growing spiritually deeper. Like many Catholics, I am also comfortable with a slightly superficial level of faith - I would dutifully attend Sunday mass and receive the sacraments but evangelising makes me uneasy. I am not confident enough to draw others to my faith as I feel inadequate. I am afraid that if they ask me the hard questions, it would shake my faith.

  2. Nick Vujicic, a man without limbs but has inspired the world with his courage and desire, quoted, “We can't, and we should not, compare sufferings. We come together as a family of God, hand in hand. And then together coming and standing upon the promises of God, knowing that no matter who you are, no matter what you're going through, that God knows it, He is with you, He is going to pull you through.”