We have heard time and again the promises that God has made to us. Jesus came into our midst to enflesh those promises in His life. We are promised an eternal relationship with God, but we’re worried about how to earn that, or to prove ourselves worthy. What would happen if we change our attitude and think about how we might accept the inheritance that Jesus has promised us and let that gift affect how we live right now? To be able to do that, we need to trust that God’s promises are true and that we must depend on God’s gratuitous love.
We are so aware of our own sinfulness and brokenness that it becomes difficult to believe that God knows who we are. He has made a commitment and promise to who we are and wants us to accept that gift so we’re able to love in the world as we are. God does not want us to wait until we’re perfect or live up to every letter of the law before we share with others the love that we have received from God. If we wait that long, it will never happen.
We see in the Gospel for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time what happens to us when we think we have to earn the inheritance. This person who approaches Jesus knows the Commandments and has done his best to follow them. He knows he’s not perfect and hasn’t followed them perfectly, but he asks for even more. What more must I do?
I guess Jesus answers the question just so that the man — and hopefully we — will understand what a silly proposition that is. Jesus gets that man’s perfectionism to the point where He has to stop it. For that young man, it was to sell all that he has; for us, it might be loving our enemies; for others, it might be voluntarily emptying ourselves for the sake another; and for most of us, it is living a much more sacrificial life. Jesus brings this man to absurdity so that the truth can be proclaimed. Earning the kingdom of God is impossible for human beings, but being given the gift of eternal life, that is possible for God to do for us.
Just try for a moment to imagine what a difference that would make if we quit trying to earn eternal life and instead received the gift from God so that we can freely and securely love others as He loves us. Part of our difficulty in accepting this promise may be the way that we are living toward others. Maybe we make them earn our love. Maybe we think pushing them to perfection is the way to help them be good. Maybe we have never been able to give over our weakness and sinfulness to Jesus and we withhold ourselves until we think we are perfect for His presence.
The reading this weekend from the Book of Wisdom reminds us that there are two virtues that God tries to give us again and again. God tries to give us His prudence and His wisdom, but we use our own rationality and wisdom to guide our footsteps here on earth. If all things are possible for God, then why wouldn’t we trust God’s wisdom more than our own?
I want you to hear again the promise that Jesus makes to us. Anyone who has given up possessiveness toward things or people for God’s sake and the sake of the Gospel will receive more than what is needed to make it through life. What more could we need for us to trust and receive the inheritance that is granted to us as a gift?
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.