28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 7:7-11 | Hebrews 4:12-13 | Mark 10:17-30
May your grace, oh, Lord, we pray, at all times go before us and follow after and make us always determined to carry out good works. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
This tradition that we have been handed down by religion comes to us through a prophet by the name of Jesus, and his desire and his work with us is to open our minds and our hearts to what is, what is real. We call that awareness, "consciousness." We also give it another name, which is interesting to me. We call it wisdom. Wisdom. I don't know what you think of when you hear the word "wisdom," but sometimes I think of an old man sitting on a mountaintop spouting phrases that are kind of hidden and mysterious, and as he spouts this profound wisdom, it seems a little esoteric. But wisdom, wisdom is the most amazing thing. It is prudence. It is a capacity for human beings to be able to understand that the decisions they make have certain manifestations and certain conclusions, so we have to realize what is going to happen when we make that decision. If you know the results of your choices, really know them, and choose them to be healthy and life-giving for you and the people around you, you have amazing wisdom.It’s as if you were the most practical person in the world. You know exactly how to deal with situation after situation, which can cause all kinds of strife and division and pain, and you can see through it, and you know which decisions need to be made to achieve that peace, oneness, joy, union — you know what it takes to have those things in your life.
The journey that human beings have always taken with God, through the Old and New Testament, is clear. It’s a journey from a place of slavery, isolation and illusion to a place of peace, wholeness and reality. We cross over. In this work of crossing over, it’s as clear as it is in this set of readings: it’s not something human beings can do on their own. You can’t enter into this place by yourself. You can’t decide, “I’m going to get to that inner, core place of peace. I’m going to create it for myself.” We have the most interesting misconception about our Christian responsibilities. We so often think it’s about my getting my act together, cleaning myself up, figuring things out on my own, presenting myself to God as a squeaky clean, perfect person, presenting myself to other people as perfect or beautiful or attractive. It’s like we get caught up in a very simple mistake. “My work is to put myself to work or work myself into being the best I can be, and that will please everyone. That will please my God.” And nothing is further from the truth. As Jesus says in the gospel, this whole business of being saved, of being brought into a place of inner peace, a place where you have healing power to give life to people around you, you can’t get there on your own. It has to be God’s work. You have to allow God to do this for you. What do you have to do? Die to everything that is not real, is not wise, is not true.
If you think that’s easy—well, maybe you don’t, but it’s so much harder than trying to get yourself all fixed up and perfect. The human ego is so strong and so desirous of achieving things that it doesn’t make sense to the ego to say, “I could achieve things by letting go of my misconceptions of how the world works and surrender to a truth that I can’t see, but please share it with me, and if I see it and it exposes all my mistakes, I will welcome that exposure, and I’ll look at those mistakes, and I’ll let them die.” That is real courage, and a person who understands that is very wise.
So remember Solomon and the amazing thing that God said to Solomon? I’m always blown away by it because Solomon was like so many people that God appointed as a king, and I don't know where they all were, basically, when they were appointed king, but if they were human like the rest of us, they were probably pretty excited about their importance and their power and their prestige and how they were going to be held up in the eyes of everyone as a king. But Solomon responded to his responsibility as king with this simple request: “God, this job is too big for me. I can’t do this alone. Give me wisdom.” And the response of God in the Old Testament is fascinating. He says, “No one who’s ever existed before and no one who will ever exist after this man has pleased me as much as that.” Well, that’s an exaggerated statement, but what is it saying? Nothing is more important than a human being standing before God and saying, “Help me to see reality. Help me to see the truth. Help me to live in the world you’ve created for me. Don’t let me create something that’s fake and phony and then try to get through life using that because I’ll fail.”
So look at Jesus in this gospel. It’s a beautiful, beautiful story of a man who doesn’t have much wisdom. He has figured out that the way in which he sees the world is that, if you please God, if you follow the law and you do everything right, then basically it was the common thought at the time, in the Old Testament, that God would reward you with money, prestige and health. So anybody who was poor and sick was being punished. So the only sign you had that you were doing the right thing is that you were living the good life, and as you lived that good life, you became the symbol of what it meant to follow the law. So you became a kind of hero, a celebrity. “Look at that wonderful man," the people said. "We hold him in esteem. He is awesome. He is important. His value is amazing. This poor guy over here who’s sick, he has no value, but the rich man is valuable.”
So a rich man comes to Jesus — a young, attractive man who is working hard to make himself as perfect as he can, and he’s pretty pleased with the job he’s done so far. So he comes to Jesus, and he calls Jesus "good," which is, I think, an interestingly line. Well, the interesting line was Jesus’ response. He said, “Don’t call me good. My father is good. Goodness isn’t something I have as a human. Goodness is a gift that comes to me from God. I am made good. I am wonderfully made, but if you think of goodness as a kind of quality of life in the world and the effectiveness of your life in the world to bring about wholeness, that’s God who helps me do that. That’s not my ability. I’m not gifted that way. I’m gifted with tremendous potential. I’ve been given this incredible thing called a human life. It’s awesome, but once it’s in my hands, I can do anything I want with it.” So this man, this rich man, has decided he’s going to do everything to make himself as attractive, and he’s so filled with his image of himself as the value that he sets himself up for what Jesus is going to teach him. And he says, “Is there anything else I can do to be better?” And Jesus looks at him and knows that this man does not know what it’s like to be as loved as He is. He knows what it’s like to be honored as an excellent image of a human being, but he doesn’t know love. So Jesus looks at him and just wants to love him and says, “There’s one thing you can do. Give up your possessions. Come and follow me.” Well, the man was crestfallen. He walked away. He can’t do that, and so then the disciples are confused because he’s the paradigm. He is the exemplar person. You get to be rich. You get to be perfect. That’s what God wants, and God’s actually in favor of that and wants people to be that kind of rich. And Jesus looks at them and says, “No, you don’t understand. That’s not what this is about.” He says, “It’s so hard for a person whose value is based on their performance, their possessions.”
Look at the word possession. A possession is different from something you own or something you have. “I possess it.” It means there’s a union with you and that thing that is so intense that you actually dwell in it. You identify with it. You become that. You become money. If that’s something held up by the culture, then you are money and you are valuable. If perfection is held up as a goal, you identify with your perfection. “That’s my value, my perfection.” Possessions. Jesus isn’t saying don’t have money, don’t have … don’t look good, don’t be attractive. He’s not saying that. He’s just saying, “Don’t let those things give you the illusion that those are the things that make you valuable.” You are valuable, and the reason you can’t have those things in your mind as your value is because you have to let those things go, in the way that you’re possessing them — you have to let them die. You can't identify with them. Usually life — in order to free us from those things — God will even take them away from us and say, “Well, okay, now you don’t have those things anymore. Now who are you?” And they say, “I’m nothing. I’m nothing. I have no value, because the things that make me valuable, my possessions, you’ve taken from me.” Possessions. No possessions.
Why is that so important? What is the kingdom? Why is it impossible for people who base their value on their possessions, why is it impossible for them to find this wonderful campground of peace and unity and oneness with everyone? Well, it’s because you have to have a different image of who you are. You can’t go through life imagining that your performance is who you are. It then becomes an obsession. Obsession. Possession. Obsession. What’s an obsession? An obsession is when you — well, it’s an interesting word because if you look at it, it means an act of standing outside a fortress and looking at it and wanting to break in so you can run it. Obsession. Think of an ideal in your mind, your head that says, “I am valuable in so far as I have something that is highly esteemed by everyone around me, and that gives me my value.” Imagine that image wants to control your life, and so the obsession comes in, and it runs your life. So everything you’re doing, unconsciously, which is the scary part, is to perform at such a high level that it’s off-putting. Nobody wants to be around somebody who’s obsessed with being successful or being rich or being spiritual or being anything. It doesn’t matter. You can be obsessed about being poor. Poor people are the model. “I want to be the poorest person in the world, so that will give me value.” No. No, Jesus is saying, “No, that’s not it. I want you to understand something,” he says, “And it’s very, very important.” He said: “This business of making yourself into something valuable in order to have value is all wrong.” So you have to let go of that, and when you let go of that, God can give you because God can then enter into you. God can find a place in you that’s not filled with your obsessions, and he can be an instrument of bringing about something awesome.
So his disciples are saying, “Okay, then you’re telling us to get rid of our possessions.” Now, that doesn’t mean get rid of your house and get rid of your second tunic, as much as it says don’t have any of those things as the source of your value. They say, “Well, what if we give up possessions then?” Here comes the great piece of wisdom. “You give up possessing things, possessing people, possessing the role that you have with people.” Some people find that their value is in pleasing someone, and you just find yourself constantly, obsessively trying to please someone. The person who’s being pleased is put off. So he said, “If you’ll stop doing that, stop possessing things, let go of those possessions, and then you’ll have 1,000 more of those things.” So if you stop possessing your friends by trying to please them in order for them to like you and be special to them, if you ignore that, you would have so many more friends. You could have real friends. If you let go of thinking you have to have something, and you’re working so intensely and you’re blinded by this obsession that you’re not going to be successful — you’re going to make stupid mistakes. You’re going to get inflated, and you’re going to — you’re going to overextend, and then you’re going to implode. Happens all the time. Stop possessing things in order to start having things. Now that’s one of those mountaintop phrases. It comes from a wise man or a wise woman. I want you to feel that, when those wisdom statements are made, they are so practical, and they make so much sense to a person who is wise.
Notice that second reading about wisdom because the first reading — and wisdom often is a woman, but in the second reading, wisdom is the word of God. It cuts. It’s a sword, and then the word is He. So wisdom seduces us in a way. She comes after us and wants us to get in her house and she’s amazing. She wants so much for you to fall in love with wisdom, but when you get it, when you start living it, it separates everything false from everything true; it cuts deep into marrow. It separates soul from spirit. That would be maybe your essence from the resonance you put out there. Some people, they have a core spirit that is negative, but they present — or a core, essence, a soul that’s negative, and they present some kind of image of something else. No, this male thing comes in and cuts things open. So this doesn’t work for people who don’t have an enormous drive and enormous courage to go for that which is absolutely essential. Imagine shifting anything in you that is trying — you use to make yourself pleasing to God, to yourself, to someone else. Imagine letting all of that go and then somehow living in the truth that your essence is beautiful. Your God lives in you and connects with your essence, and that essence, when it’s pure, comes through you, not just God but you in God, God in you coming through you and doing something extraordinary. Why would you want to make that more than it is in anyone’s eyes? Because what it is, is awesome.
Father, your call for us to take this journey with you and to allow you to carry us, to bring us to the place of fullness and wholeness, give us the courage to let go of everything. Let it just drop off of us, those things that we cling to too tightly, that give us a sense of value that isn’t based on our essence, on your presence in us. What a gift you’ve offered us. Give us the wisdom to embrace it, to live it, to share it, and we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.