28 February 2011

Sinner says what?

8th Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph, Ponchatula

After his disappointing lesson with the rich, young man, Jesus turns to the disciples and announces, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. All this time with their Lord and they had heard him say many times that anyone who believed in him would be saved. Now it appears that he's saying that rich people will have a tough time getting into heaven. Can't rich people believe in him? What is it about being rich that prevents the rich from believing in Christ? Apparently, their shocked expressions prompt Jesus to continue, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” The disciples are exceedingly astonished at this revelation, so they ask the question we all want answered, “Aright then, who can be saved?” Jesus answers in his usual enigmatic fashion, leaving the question to rest in mystery, “For men it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” In other words, men and women—rich or poor—do not save themselves by their actions. It is God who saves us. Though we cannot save ourselves, we can condemn ourselves. Wealth is just one of the many burdens that we refuse to put up down in order to take up the cross and follow Christ.

The gospel this morning highlights two essential elements of the Christian understanding of salvation. First, we are saved by God, and God alone—not our words, works, thoughts, or status in life. God alone. Second, anyone who surrenders to Christ, picks up his cross, and follows him, is saved. Though the reading focuses on the rich, young man and his attachment to wealth, there are any number of burdens that we might carry that prevent us from taking part in God's plan of salvation. Think in terms of your favorite sins. Think of these sins as your preferred ways of clinging to disobedience, your preferred means of staying away from God. The Lord invites you to His heavenly banquet, and you say, “No thanks, I'm busy accumulating wealth.” Or violating my marriage vows; or hating my neighbor; or seeking vengeance against an enemy; or wallowing in despair. If you find yourself eternally separated from God's love after death, then you were too busy separating yourself from His love while you lived. 

Who then can be saved? Everyone. Everyone can be saved. There is no one who can't be saved. Whether or not everyone will be saved is a mystery to be solved only after Judgment Day. Today, right now, every person on the planet is eligible for salvation. Christ died once for all—no exceptions. Christ died for the rich, young man, but the man's possessions possessed him, so he was not free to follow Christ. He was free to surrender his wealth, but he chose to live as a wealthy slave to temporary riches rather than as a poor slave to the permanent wealth of heaven. As he watches the young man walk away, Jesus says, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” What's “hard” is not the wealth itself but the decision whether or not to surrender wealth in favor of poverty, the kind of poverty necessary to travel along behind Jesus on his journey to the cross in Jerusalem.

What “wealth” possesses you? A wealth of anxiety or doubt? A wealth of infidelity or spiritual cowardice? Maybe a wealth of self-righteousness or a cold heart? Whatever it is, surrender it. With so much to carry, with so many attachments, you will never make it through the narrow gate. Put it all down, pick up the cross, and follow Christ.

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