Our second lesson proclaimed how the Word of God is like a double-edged sword; it enters deeply and cuts deeply. Surely as we hear that Gospel lesson today, it must seem like that to all of us. How hard it is to hear God's Word, to accept it, and to follow it. In fact, we might, like the disciples, think it's impossible, but Jesus reassures us, "Yes, it is impossible for us alone, but with God everything is possible."
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
It's important for us to listen deeply to this Word of God today and see how it might enter into our being. Even if it cuts deeply but transforms us, it will be worth it. One of the first things I think about when I reflect on that incident in the Gospel is how the young man went away sad. He was so hopeful when he ran up to Jesus. He thought he would get the answer to what he had to do to gain everlasting life.
Then he finds out he's already been living the answer -- keep the commandments. But then Jesus looks upon him with love and tells him, "Go sell what you have, give it to the poor, and then come and follow me." The young man, as I said, went away sad, but I also think how sad it must have been for Jesus. This young man probably looked like he would have been an amazing disciple to join those other disciples. Jesus had looked upon him and loved him and he walked away.
How sad it was for Jesus. The same challenge, of course, is being given to us this evening. Are we going to walk away and make Jesus sad or will we try to listen, accept what Jesus says and follow him? Probably the most important reason why we find this passage difficult is that, to some extent, we misunderstand and so did the young man misunderstand that Jesus wasn't saying, "You won't get to heaven." He'd already assured him, "You've kept the commandments. You'll get to heaven." But Jesus is saying, "There's more right now. You can enter into the reign of God now."
The reign of God, which is what we could describe as the dynamic rule of God's love embracing all of creation -- every one of us, all the goods of the earth -- everything is embraced by God's love. When we enter into the reign of God, we enter into that reign of love. Those are the very words Jesus spoke at the beginning of his public life, "The reign of God is at hand. It's ready to break forth where God's love will draw us all into a community of love, but change your lives."
Want to enter into the reign of God that is present right now, breaking forth, coming to its fullness gradually? Change your lives. One of the most important ways is to have a right understanding about our material wealth. Jesus doesn't want everyone to be destitute. That would be wrong. God made the earth and the planets and everything that is as a gift for all of us. He wants us to enjoy and to celebrate, to rejoice in, and to be thankful for these gifts.
Sometimes we think that somehow we have earned them for ourselves alone and we forget that everything is a gift. God has loved us into existence; God has loved all of creation into existence and it's a gift. We don't earn it; we can't merit it. The young man said, "What must I do to gain everlasting life?" He thought he could merit it, he could earn it. That's not it; it's a gift. It's simply by trying to follow the way of Jesus, the way of love, the way of thanksgiving, gratitude, the spirit of joy that God has so enriched us by giving us life to begin with, by giving us a world that is so beautiful and good and can nurture all of us. You don't earn it. You don't earn everlasting life. It's all given to us by God when we are ready to hear God's Word, accept that Word, and follow it.
We are all aware, I'm sure, that Pope Francis recently published an encyclical letter called, "Care for Our Common Home." In this letter he draws attention to St. Francis, the young man from Assisi who took the words of Jesus seriously, gave up his wealth, and tried to follow Jesus as faithfully as possible. Pope Francis refers to St. Francis in this part of the letter where he's speaking about creation. He tells us "the creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain in their own symbolic and narrative language profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality."
Here's the key part that Francis says, "Those teachings from the book of Genesis suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships with God, with our neighbor, and with the earth itself. The harmony between the creator, humanity, and creation as a whole is a gift to us. We were given dominion over the earth, not to dominate, but to till it and to keep it, but we fail. As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual."
Here is where he refers to St. Francis, "It is significant that the harmony which St. Francis of Assisi experienced with all creatures was seen as a healing of the rupture that had been brought into God's creation. St. Bonaventure held that through universal reconciliation with every creature, St. Francis in some way returned to the state of God's original goodness." He began to live what I've been talking about -- the reign of God.
He was at peace with God, with all his brothers and sisters, and with all of creation. He cherished every bit of the created world -- brother sun, sister moon, even brother death. Francis embraced all of creation, loved it, and cherished it.
Pope Francis says, "This is a far cry from our situation today where sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature that are bringing about the destruction of our common home, the earth." Pope Francis challenges us to try to bring about change in our lives so that we can show that we value and cherish this world that God has given to us.
We will have to do that by making sure that those three relationships -- our relationship with God -- love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, our relationship with our brothers and sisters -- love our neighbor as ourselves, and our relationship with the planet, with all of creation -- if we restore those relationships and do not hang on to the goods of the earth like they belong to me, if we really begin to develop a sense of the common good of what Francis calls "our common home" and try to preserve it and save it, then like St. Francis, we will come to reconciliation with God, with our brothers and sisters throughout the world, and with all of nature -- with all of the earth and all the gifts that God has given us.
That will be our way of entering into the reign of God -- the dynamic rule of God's love, embracing, drawing into fullness all that God has made. As we enter into that reign of God by knowing that everything we have is a gift, being willing to share, living according to the value of the common good, as we enter into that spirit, then we will begin to do what Jesus asked of that young man, "Go, give away what you have and come and follow me." The reign of God is at hand. We can help to move it forward, to bring it about by following the way of Jesus, and cherishing all the gifts that God has given to us.
[Homily given at St. Philomena Parish, Detroit. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]