Ez 24:15-23; Deut 32:18-21; Mt 19:16-22
The history of God’s People gives clears testimony; we are a fickle race. An honest examination of conscience reveals the same identity; each of us is fickle. God and religion have first place in our lives when we get what we want. As one Catholic comedian told the story of his mother, a prayerful woman from the old country. She had a great devotion to Saint Joseph; until he didn’t answer her prayers the way she wanted. It was then that the statue of Saint Joseph ended up in the refrigerator with his face to the wall. We like God and his Saints when they answer our prayers to our satisfaction. This attitude is not unlike our ancestors in the faith. This attitude is challenged by the responsorial psalm. Indeed, we have been unmindful of the Rock that begot us. We have neglected to give the LORD a second thought. It seems that the label, “practical atheists”, is not so far from the truth. It seems that we suffer from amnesia when it comes to the LORD who gave us birth in baptism, in water and Spirit. Such neglect will only arouse the LORD to loathing and anger toward his sons and daughters. As another psalm proclaims, the LORD hates with a perfect hate: He hates sin and loves sinners. Because we are his sons and daughters he has given us the very best, abundant life in his Eternal Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is with a divine tough love that the LORD hides his face from us, his fickle children, his sons without loyalty. Indeed, like our fathers and mothers of ancient days, we have provoked the LORD our God with our “no-god” and we have angered him with our vain idols. Yes, we have preferred practical paganism and every-day hedonism to lives of true devotion and real piety. We delight in our “good luck”; we boast of our “sexual adventures”; we avoid any self-sacrifice, and we take refuge in uncontrolled credit; we even consider “unwanted babies” to be a nuisance, a mere inconvenient mass of cells worthy of abortion. Such are the some of the vain idols of our own age, in which we worship our own convenience and ourselves. Perhaps the LORD in his wisdom will provoke us with the truth of our own inner emptiness; perhaps He will provoke us with a “no-people”; with a foolish nation he will anger us.
No wonder the Old Testament is filled with reluctant prophets. No wonder the faithful and strong among the People of God hesitated or in the case of Jonah refused to accept the LORD’s summons to become a prophet. Not only did the Prophet have to speak a message that no one wanted to hear, to a rebellious house that would not need it anyway. The Prophet himself had to become a living and personal sign for the stiff-necked people, the rebellious house of Israel. In his own flesh and in his own heart he proclaimed the revelation of God, even before he opened his mouth. In today’s reading from the Prophet Ezekiel we hear of just such a moment in his personal-public life of prophetic service. “The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, by a sudden blow I am taking away from you the delight of your eyes, but do not weep or shed any tears”. That very evening the Prophet’s wife died, and the next morning he responded to this painful loss as the LORD had commanded. His neighbors, his community, his nation, were taken aback; they were confused and startled by Ezekiel’s seeming emotional frigidity and lack of respect for his beloved wife, the delight of his eyes. Yet, this is exactly how the People have treated their Divine Spouse. They have forgotten how precious was his favor and kindness to them in that house of slavery. They lost their minds in foolish idolatry, and now they are about to loose their land and their temple, the stronghold of their pride, in exile. When these things happen, the greatest sadness will be that their dead and stony hearts will not even respond. The tragedy of their own idolatry will be seen in their exile without mourning or weeping; they shall rot away because of their sins and groan one to another.
The sadness of the young man in today’s gospel is the sadness of all who are possessed by their many possessions. Materialism, commercialism, does not satisfy the human heart, even the heart of a wealthy capitalist or a socially well-placed communist. Economic problems are not solved by merely economic solutions. Perhaps, because economic problems-at their roots-are not merely economic problems. Neither great economic system provides the solutions for the deepest needs of the human heart. Capitalism tries to keep God in a convenient place where He does not interfere with boundless greed. Communism denies the very existence of God and sees religion as the enemy of the people. Indeed, neither capitalism nor communism deals with the question of eternal life. Eventually this issue must be confronted. No one avoids death, though many strive for eternal youth and a painless existence. The rich young man asked the Divine Teacher about the good he must do to gain eternal life. The Lord Jesus affirms the revelation of the Old Testament; The LORD wants us to do the good so that we become what we do. The more we obey the commandments, the more we practice virtuous living, the more we become good, holy like our Father in heaven is holy. The rich young man is also a good and faithful believer, and he wants to know why he is still empty. He asks the painful personal question we must all ask: “What do I still lack?” At this point in the story Saint Mark has the Lord Jesus look on him with love. Here Saint Matthew tells us of the challenge the Lord Jesus had for the rich young man and for each of us. “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Perhaps today our only treasure will be found in heaven; perhaps now we can begin to follow the Lord Jesus. This is the only true joy of every human heart, and so many possessions are as nothing in comparison.