27 May 2013

God provides a way back

8th Week OT (M) 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic Church, NOLA 

For those of us who are lost, held captive to sin, and living in darkness, there is a way to be found, freed, and brought into the light. Sirach assures us, “To the penitent God provides a way back, he encourages those who are losing hope and has chosen for them the lot of truth.” God provides, encourages, and chooses. He provides the means for returning to Him. He encourages the weakened heart. He chooses truth and makes truth an inheritance. For whom does God provide, encourage, and choose? The penitent. Those who repent, those who turn from sin and disobedience and return to Him in contrition. Repentance is not a condition for mercy. There are no conditions for the gift of mercy. However, what good is mercy if it is not freely received? To receive God's mercy, to be open to making mercy work in the life of a sinner, the sinner must take what is given. But we cannot take a divine gift and put it to work in a soul that has turned away from God. So, we must repent, turn again toward God and His rule. Think for a moment: what prevents you from turning again toward God? What weighs you down, holds you under the thumb of sin? 

The rich young man—a figure both sympathetic and tragic—asks Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus recites the Ten Commandments, knowing already that the man follows the Law dutifully. The man says, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Though he has followed the Law since he was a child, the man is still lost, living in darkness. And even though he's living in darkness, he longs to be brought into the light. This tells us that sin can never completely destroy our desire for eternal life, our hope of salvation. Mark tells us, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him. . .” Despite his sin, despite his attachment to things, Jesus loves him. Thus, Christ is the means that God provides for us to return to Him. Christ is the encouragement that God provides to strengthen our sin-weakened hearts. Christ is the choice that God makes for us to live in truth. The man is kneeling before Jesus the Teacher and he's asking to be taught. So, Jesus teaches, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The man lacks for nothing in this world except the will to leave the world for heaven. 

What's weighing him down? What's holding him under the thumb of sin? Stuff can't keep us from God—money, cars, gadgets. These are things. Made things. They are all as light as smoke. The burden holding the man down is the value he attaches to these thing. But even “value” is an abstract concept; it's a made thing of the mind. Like an idol, “value” reflects the one who made it. The man turns away from Christ b/c he has invested his worth, his sense of self in the passing stuff of creation. Whether he knows it or not, he worships a god of his own making, and looks to that false god to save him. When Jesus tells him to go sell everything he has and give it all to the poor, he's not just telling the man to impoverish himself, he's telling him to abandon a false religion, to destroy an idol he himself has made. In effect, Jesus is saying, “If you want eternal life, then you must worship only the One who is eternal.” Giving up his idol means giving up everything that has defined him, given him purpose and hope. He walks away. But Sirach assures us, “To the penitent God provides a way back, he encourages those who are losing hope and has chosen for them the lot of truth.”


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  1. For some reason, this didn't really work for me when I read it early this A.M., but when I heard it preached I changed my mind, and got quite a bit out of it, even if (or perhaps because) the tone was a tad somber.

    ". . . he longs to be brought into the light" and beyond, made me cry ;-)! Thank you.

    1. I was somber b/c we're using the On The Floor Altar again. I didn't feel like I could really lost loose. .

    2. ". . . the On The Floor Altar" - is that kinda like sitting around a campfire, roasting marshmallows, holding hands and singing Kumbaya? The audio has been messed up a few times over the last week, but now for whatever reason I can hear the congregation really well, and last week a rather impressive thunderstorm during an A.M. Mass.

    3. It's a portable altar put outside the sanctuary rails so we can "closer to the people."

    4. Hmmm...didn't think portable altars were supposed to be used, especially when you have a magnificent permenent altar - I"m not sure as a "people" that I would like you to be "closer" to me. :-) (not YOU, but you priests). Doesn't that make it harder for the "people" to "see what's going on?" Y'all sure must have a lot of room.