Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Wisdom is the source of this weekend’s first reading. As the name implies, this ancient book was designed to insist that believing in the one God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was not ridiculous but in fact the ultimate in wisdom and human logic.
In this weekend’s reading, an interesting literary technique occurs. Wisdom is presented not as an abstract virtue or reality of the mind, but as a person. Possibly as a result, Christians long ago came to identify the most profound wisdom with the Holy Spirit.
Jewish scholars realized at the time that in the last analysis gold was of no greater value that sand. Realizing this fact, it was easy to look either with scorn or pity upon people who spent their earthly lives and even acted criminally just to obtain gold. The lust for gold was the supreme idiocy.
Understanding the inevitable worthlessness of gold is true wisdom.
For its second reading, the Church presents a section from the Letter to the Hebrews. Drawing upon the ancient Jewish notion of material wealth, accompanied by ignoring God and God’s law, the letter declares that knowing what God has revealed, and living accordingly, result from the greatest wisdom.
St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is very familiar to Christians. It is the story of the rich young man.
Asked what is essential to possessing eternal life, Jesus answered that the person truly wishing to have life must obey the Ten Commandments, the great gift of God to the people of Israel through Moses.
Questioned further, Jesus replied that a person must disregard their personal thirst for material things — a thirst strong among humans — and in turn give to the poor.
The man asking the questions could not accept this last admonition. Greatly disappointed, he turned and walked away from Jesus. He could not remove himself from the belongings he had acquired.
Obviously, this man was wealthy and comfortable, but he is a sad figure. Obviously, he felt the impulse to follow God’s plan. He asked Jesus what was required for salvation, but he was unwilling to give his riches to the poor, as Jesus counselled. He was unhappy in this decision. In other words, holding onto his wealth brought him no joy or peace of mind.
The French Navy, over the years, has named four warships the “Richelieu,” surely the only vessels of warfare named to honor a Catholic cardinal.
Each ship honored one of the most famous figures in French history, Cardinal Armand Jean de Plessis, Duc de Richelieu, (1585-1642), not remembered for his religious piety but for his skill as a politician.
For many years prime minister to the French king, Louis XIII, the cardinal made France mighty, glorious and rich. He himself was one of the most powerful people on earth.
Finally, he neared death. He supposedly said, “If I had exchanged my cardinal’s red for the Carthusian white (monk’s habit), my palace for a (monastic) cell, I would not be afraid to die.”
The coming of death opened his eyes. He saw what truly mattered.
Cardinal Richelieu was not the only person mighty in earthly accomplishments to look back upon life and regret that so much energy was spent on obtaining things and gaining control.
He never was an immoral man. He went through the motions of being a priest and bishop. He firmly upheld authentic Church teaching. His goals, however, were askew.
In these readings, the Church tells us that being a faithful disciple is everything. Pursuing discipleship at times means facing facts bluntly.
Look at the rich and powerful, unfulfilled in life, dry and troubled at death, and then look at the joy of the faithful.
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