“Jesus said, ‘Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’” (Mark 10:21)
October 11, 2015
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
One day a very wealthy father took his young son on a trip to the country for the sole purpose of showing him what it was like to be poor. They spent a few days and nights on the farm of a very poor family. After their return from the trip, the father asked his son how he liked it.
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“‘It was great, Dad,’ the son replied. ‘Did you see what it’s like to be poor?’ the father asked. ‘Yes, I did,’ said the son. ‘So what did you learn from the trip?’ asked the father. The son replied, ‘I saw that we have one dog, and they have four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden, and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden, and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard, and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on, and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us; they have friends to protect them.’
“The boy's father was speechless. Then his son added, ‘It showed me how poor we really are.’"(Original source unknown)
How often do we overlook what we already have to focus on what we don’t have? How often do we forget the treasure already ours as we covet what we see in media advertising, in store windows, in our neighbor’s house? How often do we wish that another’s happiness could be ours? Thus it is that God, knowing how prone we are to blindness, gave us a commandment warning us to avoid this trap: God said, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17)
In truth, wealth is more about perspective, about one’s state of mind, than about anything else. In my religious community, the Congregation of Holy Cross, I’ve conversed with many a missionary on home leave who longs to return to the materially poor country where he had been serving. When questioned about this, his response would invariably be that people were happy and joyous back there — be it Peru, Chile, Uganda, Kenya, India or Bangladesh. Here in the United States, he says, a country considered to be materially wealthy, people seem anxious and depressed — like something within them has died.
Indeed, something within us has died when we live in a constant state of wanting; when, no matter how much we have, it is never enough; when we just know we’ll finally rest easy when that one certain thing is ours. But it will never happen; that one final thing will never materialize; there will always be something else, another one final thing. Peace and rest will elude us all our earthly days.
In the gospel passage we hear today, “Jesus said, ‘Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’” (Mark 10:21)
He was a good man wanting to be better, the man to whom Jesus addressed these words. He followed the commandments faithfully while loving God and neighbor with all his heart; yet the man sensed there was still something missing. And when Jesus told him what it was — his many earthly possessions — the man went away sad, for to forfeit them was a price he was unwilling to pay.
Indeed, wealth is about perspective; it’s a state of mind. The man Jesus addressed did not so much possess as was he possessed — by the very things he clutched tightly to his heart. Not willing or able to release them, he would never know the treasure Jesus held out to him. He could not imagine living without what seemed so necessary. He just couldn’t see it.
Sometimes we can’t see it either. Consider a story:
“A small town chamber of commerce invited a speaker to address its annual dinner. The community’s economy was bad, people were discouraged, and they wanted this motivational speaker to give them a boost.
“During her presentation, the speaker took a large piece of white paper and made a small black dot at the center with a marking pen. Then she held the paper up before the group and asked them what they saw.
“One person quickly replied, ‘I see a black dot.’ Challenged the speaker, ‘Okay, what else do you see?’ All the others in the group joined in agreement, insisting the black dot was the only thing to be seen. The speaker persisted, ‘Don’t you see anything besides the dot?’ A loud, resounding ‘No’ came from the audience.
“‘Well, what about the sheet of paper?’ chided the speaker. ‘I know you all see it,’ she said, ‘But you have chosen to overlook it.’” (Original source unknown)
Our lives can become so centered on the little world of here-and now that we are unwilling to take even a peek over the horizon. Intent on securing our earthly happiness and fulfillment, we turn more inward day by day. We become but a small black dot.
Holy Cross missionaries on home leave can’t wait to be back at their mission stations, can’t wait to be back among the happy, joyous, and materially poor people they live among and serve. Admitted one Brother returning to Uganda not long ago, “I’m glad I could visit my sister and her family, but I can’t stay here. America seems anxious and depressed — like something within has died.