Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Stunning Identity of the Rich Man - Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When we hear today’s story about the rich man, it is easy to strip down the story to a simple moral lesson: namely, that in order to be in heaven, we have to sell everything and be poor.

That misses the point.

The total bring-us-to-our-knees moment comes right before Jesus tells the man to sell everything. The bring-us-to-our-knees moment is when it says:

Jesus, looking at him, loved him. 

The end.

Jesus loved Him. He looked at him and saw His child, His one for whom His heart ached and for whom He would go to the Cross. Jesus, looking at him, loved him.

*          *          *

Lovers, when they are in love, can gaze into their beloved’s eyes for what seems to be forever. They gaze, they look upon… and the moment is eternal. Words too deep for even the greatest and most able of poets are spoken there. Heart speaks to heart. Lovers know of this. Adorers know of this. It is why, when a priest came to St. Andre Bessett and asked him, “Andre, what do you say to Jesus in your long hours here in the chapel?” Andre simply responded by saying, “I look at Him and He looks at me.”

There is a union there, a gaze which is so completing and so total that nothing else matters.

*          *          *

When Jesus asks the man to sell what he has, it is not simply a formal, legalistic requirement in order to merit eternal life. How bland and sterile!

No, Jesus is inviting the man into a level of intimacy surpassing the man’s upside-down perspectives of what constitutes treasure. In other words, Jesus is saying to the man: “I love you. You are my treasure. Am I your treasure? Do you love me?”

You see, a man could keep the commandments without necessarily loving God and neighbor. To fulfill the commandment “thou shall not kill,” for example, leaves a whole lot of room for anger and violence. The law was the bare minimum of justice. Jesus wants the man to love.

This is why Jesus tells the man not only to sell what he has, but to sell and give to the poor. There is something going on here. Jesus could have simply told the man to sell everything and follow. But he tells the man to sell AND give to the poor. Why?

In that moment of giving to the poor, the man would have come face to face with those who have always been totally dependent upon the treasures he has possessed. And perhaps he would be moved, moved by love, to look upon them and love them—to gaze—to not simply be face to face, but heart to heart.

And maybe, just maybe in that moment, the man would have realized that this is exactly what Jesus has done for him: that Jesus entered into this man’s life and was bestowing the real treasure. The rich man isn’t the rich man; he is actually poor, for he has no eternal treasure. Jesus is the rich man. And the treasure that He is bestowing is the love that never ends.

And as amazing as that is, it is not what stuns me this morning.

*          *          *

What is stunning is this.

The man walks away sad. He has lost the gaze. (Literally, his “face fell.”) And as he walked away, I couldn’t but help think of Jesus still looking at him with love, even unto the horizon—like the Father for his lost son. 

You remember that story, right? The son came to his father and said, “Father, give to me my inheritance.” And the father gave his son half of the inheritance—that is, many, many possessions.

And the man went away sad, for he had many possessions.

The identity of the rich man has now become the Prodigal Son.

*          *          *

Children, go, sell what you have and give to the poor. May Jesus be your treasure, may His love be your greatest possession!

And if your life has been that rich man, turned away from Jesus and awash in the stuff of this life, our merciful Father wants you back. It’s not too late! 

Jesus, looking at him, loved him. 

No comments:

Post a Comment