28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B ON OCTOBER 10, 2021 (R. 1: Wisdom 7: 7- 11; Psalm 90: 12- 17; R. 2: Hebrews 4: 12- 13; Gospel: Mark 10: 17- 30)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
A few years ago, the youth minister of my parish gathered his family for family night prayer. It came to a point where each member of the family was expected to pray for a specific intention, then his two year old daughter said, “Let us pray for Jesus Christ so that he will not fall down from the cross, we pray to the Lord.” I found the story very funny. The next day, I shared the story with my friend, Rev. Mark Weber and we both laughed. After the laughter, he said to me, “Fr. Emmanuel, tell the little girl not to worry about praying for Jesus not to fall from the cross because many human beings are working round the clock to keep him permanently on the cross.”
Today’s Gospel passage began with the rich man coming to Jesus to ask for the requirements for inheriting eternal life. Jesus told him about the commandments, “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal…” The rich man replied that he had kept those commandments since his youth. Jesus gave him thumbs up and added that only one thing was lacking, “…sell what you have, and give to the poor…” The man said, “That’s an easy one, I have been keeping them since I was a little boy. So, where is my ticket? Am I good to go? Jesus said, “Not yet, you still have one more check point: go sell all that you have, give the proceeds to the poor and you will be good to go.” But the man would not take that. He was sad, and he left.
The words of Jesus to the rich man can be rephrased this way, “Since you don’t break the commandments, what then do you do?” It is like saying, “Since you are good at keeping yourself out of trouble, what do you do to in place of the trouble?” It is one thing to avoid evil, it is another thing to do something good in place of the evil. Jesus commended him based on the Old Testament, but Jesus also wanted the rich man to journey with him into the New Testament. The Old Testament focused more on the “don’ts” and “shall nots”. There we encounter things like, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not eat pork etc. After giving him a good grade for the Old Testament, Jesus invited him to try the New Testament, but the rich man would not leave his comfort zone. In the New Testament, the emphasis is no longer on the don’ts but on the dos. After telling us what not to do in the Old Testament, Jesus comes in the New Testament to tell us what to do. He said, “A new commandment I give to you… love one another…” (John 13: 34). Note that Jesus did not say, “Thou shall not hate thy neighbor,” rather, he took the route of “Thou shall love thy neighbor.” He took a more demanding and more comprehensive route, for it is possible to not hate and not love at the same time, while it is impossible to love and hate at the same time. The New Testament tends to condemn those who sit on the fence than it does those who in an attempt to do the good make some mistakes. “So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelations 3: 16). Action is recommended, while inaction is frowned at.
My professor of the Theology of Preaching, Fr. Greg Heille, O.P., often reminds his student preachers that the cross is the destination of preaching, as such for him, “All good Christian preaching lead to the Holy Cross.” How do we make the cross the destination of our preaching? The cross was an instrument of torture. By virtue of our sins, we were all nailed to the cross, but Jesus Christ went to the Cross to take us down from the cross. He “sold his divine privileges” and used the proceeds to take us down from the cross. Having been set free, he wants us to go bring down others who are still on the cross. But that requires bearing the consequences and carrying the scars of the wounds from the crucifixion. That was what he asked of the rich young man; to sell his possessions, and use the proceeds to bring down the poor people who are still hanging on the cross. But when the rich man heard this demand and thought about the scars that would follow, his face fell and he went away.
As we talk about the rich man, it is possible for some of us at this point to say, “Thank God I am not rich, I just live from paycheck to paycheck.” Yes, that may be true, but we are still better than others. The invitation is to help those we are better than. Beyond material wealth, there are different forms of inequalities, injustices, and oppression that exist in the world where we may be part of the privileged class. Jesus wants us to give up our privileges and use the proceeds to save those in the suffering class from the cross.
We must not be overwhelmed by how corrupt the system is. No effort is too little. St. Theresa of Calcutta would say, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” And St. Oscar Romero would say, “Those who have a voice must speak for those who are voiceless”. Each time we bring down a suffering person from the cross, it is Jesus we are bringing down from the cross. That is why on the last day, Jesus will say to us, “When I was hungry you gave me food to eat…whatsoever you do to the least of my people, you do unto me, now come and enjoy the benefits prepared for you by my Father.” (Matthew 25:31ff).
My dearly beloved in Christ, may God grant us the grace, not only to count our blessings but to share our blessings until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.