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Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Homily for 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, CSSp

Wisdom 7:7-11,        Hebrews 4:12-13     Mark 10:17-30
- on the Gospel - The Monkey Trap

African hunters have a clever way of trapping monkeys. They slice a coconut in two, hollow it out, and in one half of the shell cut a hole just big enough for a monkey's hand to pass through. Then they place an orange in the other coconut half before fastening together the two halves of the coconut shell. Finally, they secure the coconut to a tree with a rope, retreat into the bush, and wait. Sooner or later, an unsuspecting monkey swings by, smells the delicious orange, and discovers its location inside the coconut. The monkey then slips its hand through the small hole, grasps the orange, and tries to pull it through the hole. Of course, the orange won't come out; it's too big for the hole. To no avail the persistent monkey continues to pull and pull, never realizing the danger it is in. While the monkey struggles with the orange, the hunters approach and capture the monkey by throwing a net over it. As long as the monkey keeps its fist wrapped around the orange, the monkey is trapped. The only way the monkey could save its life is to let go of the orange and flee.

This hunting system works because it hardly occurs to the monkey that it cannot have both the orange and its freedom. Even when the monkey sees the hunters coming to capture it, it does not let go of the orange and run away but makes more frantic effort to take the orange with it. The system works because the monkey is entrapped by its own greed. I can imagine the monkey saying its last prayers as it sees the hunters coming. The monkey prayer would go something like this: "Save me, O God; please save me. Only do not ask me to let go of the orange." This may sound funny, but fact is, many of us have learnt to say the monkey prayer. A good example is the rich young man in today's gospel whose prayer probably was: "Give me eternal life, O Lord; only do not ask me to give up my wealth."

If you are a lover of animals and you see the monkey struggling to get the orange while the hunters are closing up on it, what would you do? You would probably shout to the monkey to abandon the stupid orange and run for dear life. This is exactly what Jesus does to the rich young man. He sees the man in danger of losing his bid on eternal life on account of his attachment to wealth. So he calls on him to give up his wealth and save his life. Why did Jesus have to do this? Mark tells us that it is because "Jesus looked at him and loved him" (Mark 10:21a). The teachings and directives of Jesus often seem hard and incomprehensible but in the end they are meant for our own good. It will change the way we receive the teachings of Jesus when we realise that, hard as they may be, they are the words of someone who loves us and who knows better than we probably do at the moment what is ultimately in our interest to have or to avoid.

The rich young man is like the monkey insisting on the orange when its very life is in danger. So Jesus points out to him the only way of escape: "You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Mark 10:21b). Why does the young man find this teaching a hard pill to swallow? We know that this man has been a religious, observant Jew since his youth. Religious Jews believed that wealth was a sign of God's blessing. Rich people were regarded as those God had blessed and poor people were regarded as those God had cursed. That is why when Jesus told his disciples how hard it would be for rich people to enter the kingdom of God, "they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, 'Then who can be saved?'" (verse 26). Here we see the beginnings of what we know today as the "prosperity gospel," the belief that wealth is a sign of God's approval, and poverty and hardship a sign of God's disapproval.

The gospel of Jesus challenges the prosperity gospel for, as we see in today's gospel story, poverty and God's love can go hand in hand. In fact, voluntary poverty can be a way of responding to God's love. Prosperity gospel is nothing but materialism in religious garb. Materialism is the belief that without wealth life is meaningless. The rich young man was a materialist believer. Our prayer today is that God may give us more wisdom than the monkey to flee materialism in all its forms. For "what profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit one's life?" (Mark 8:36)

- on the Epistle - The Good News of God’s Omnipresence

Joe Louis was the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1937 until he retired in 1949. In 1946 Louis prepared to defend his title against a skilled fighter named Billy Conn. Louis was warned to watch out for Conn's great speed and his tactic of darting in to attack and then moving quickly out of his opponent's range. In a famous display of confidence, Louis replied, "He can run, but he can't hide." This statement is even more true when applied to our relationship with God. God is ever present and all knowing. This mystery is celebrated in a popular psalm.

O LORD, you have searched me and known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. 3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. 5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. 7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. 11 If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night," 12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:1-12)

This sublime truth of faith has often been invoked in popular Christian teaching to put the fear of God in the heart of believers. God is ever watching to pick out our offences. He will note well even our most secret sins and hold them against us on judgment day. This is, in general, the sense in which the Letter of Hebrews uses the omnipresence and omniscience of God in today's second reading.

The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)
The belief that God is everywhere and knows all things, however, can be a very comforting doctrine. We can see it positively as good news and not just as a fear factor to discourage us from sin. Here are three positive inferences we can make from this teaching.

First, no matter what trials and difficulties we are going through, God is there with us. This is a very comforting thought. One of the big temptations that come to us in times of hardship is the thought that God has abandoned us. Even Jesus had this temptation on the cross when he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). The belief that God is always there with us comes to reassure us in such moments so that we do not slip from doubt into despair.

Secondly, people only see our actions, which are not always impressive. But God knows our intentions, our efforts and struggles to do right, and so does not hold it against us as people do. That God knows the innermost thoughts of our hearts means that God understands us completely. God knows that deep down we are good people. We mean to do right. But as St. Paul also experienced, we often find ourselves doing the opposite. "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Roman 7:15). People around us may not understand our apparent inconsistency. But God who knows everything and who understands us from within knows that deep down we still love Him.

Finally, it sometimes happens that adversaries and rivals gang up against us. We find ourselves falsely accused, declared guilty, and punished. At such heartbreaking moments, it helps to know that we have a God who knows exactly what the truth is and will vindicate us by and by, as He vindicated His Son Jesus Christ.

Next time we see a symbol of the ever watchful eye of God, let us think not just that God is watching us as a traffic officer watches the traffic to fish out traffic offenders, but that He is watching over us as a mother watches over her little child who is learning to walk.

NB: Find my reflection (Uwakwe Reflections) for 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B here

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