Reign In Our Heart – Fr. Gary Pennings

Fr. Gary Pennings’ Homily October 10, 2021

“This Gospel passage is often called the rich young man passage except the Gospel never actually says he’s rich or that he’s young. He runs to Jesus so we presume that he’s young because old men don’t usually run. I can attest to that and he kneels before Jesus. The Gospel doesn’t even say that he’s rich except that he has many possessions so we can conclude from that that he is, that he’s wealthy. No doubt he’s probably dressed well. He probably had the trimmings of wealth. Jesus could see that, but he could see a lot more as well. He could see what was on that young man’s heart. There was something very good about this young man. He desired the highest good, eternal life. He was asking the right questions. He was seeking the right thing. I don’t know how he understood eternal life. I don’t know how you understand it. I would say eternal life is when God’s truth and love reigns in us over all else, to be in the presence of perfect love forever and where we finally love rightly. I don’t think there’s any imperfect or disordered love in Heaven. It’s been perfected and we can’t do it on our own. He asks Jesus, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus says, ‘You know the commandments. You know the basics. The grave offenses against love that you must avoid. You can’t get to Heaven if you continue in these grave things.’ and he lists a bunch of commandments that we call the second table of the Decalogue. You can’t murder. You can’t commit adultery. You can’t steal. You can’t be dishonest and defraud. You have to honor your parents, the ones who gave you life. These are the basic things and I said they’re the part of the commandments that relate to how we relate to one another. They’re called the second table of the Decalogue, commandments basically of four through ten. Thus he doesn’t list anything from the first three commandments, how we relate to God. The man says, ‘All these I have observed from my youth as if to say, ‘Ask anyone Jesus. I’m nice. I’m a nice guy. I’ve got a good reputation. People recognize my virtue.’ and then the Gospel says, ‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him.’ He willed his good. He didn’t want to merely preserve his feelings. He didn’t want to just sustain his ego, but he willed his highest good. Jesus tenderly says, ‘Young man you are lacking one thing. Go. Sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in Heaven and then come follow me.’ Now Jesus in an indirect way addresses the first commandments, the first table of the Decalogue. You shall have no false gods before me. I am the Lord your God. You shall love me with all your mind, heart, soul, and strength. Jesus sees the man is on his way, but he’s not there yet. Jesus must also see that despite the man’s rich desire for eternal life, his possessions, his lifestyle, his stuff has enchanted him. He’s too attached to it. His priorities are out of order. His heart is divided. He is not loving God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength. He’s addicted to the things that will pass away. The things of this world reign in his heart. Eternal life demands that things of God reign in our heart. The Gospel says, ‘The man’s face fell and he went away sad for he had many possessions.’ It’s one of the few times in the Gospel where Jesus directly invites someone to follow Him and they don’t and it’s a really sad moment. Jesus no doubt senses a shock among his disciples. He says, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God.’ and the disciples were amazed at His words and I don’t think they were amazed in a good way, but he emphasized the point all the more with the camel and the eye of a needle analogy. Now is Jesus condemning wealth in and of itself? No, but he’s giving a stern warning against the allurements of wealth, of prosperity, of worldly stuff, how it can become addicting, how it can be our highest goal, how it can become our false god in a way. It can draw us away from what eternally endures, what really matters. It can have us clinging on.

I don’t come up with all of this stuff all by myself. I listen to other people’s homilies sometimes. I steal stuff in other words and one of the homilies I read he asked the people, ‘Do you know how to catch a monkey? You take a gourd and hang it in a tree. You put a hole just big enough for the monkey’s hand to squeeze in. You put a piece of fruit inside of there. When he puts his hand he grabs the fruit and now with a fist he can’t get his hand out, but you’ve got the monkey because he will not let go of what he’s holding on to even though if he did his hand would be free, but he won’t let go. That’s a little bit what Jesus is talking about today. Our stuff can be like that and it doesn’t have to be just material things. It could be ego or fame or all those things.

The first reading today is purposely paired with this Gospel. It’s from the book of wisdom and Solomon is often attributed traditionally to be the author. Remember this is the kind of Israel. One of the most wealthy kings in jewish history. ‘I pleaded and a spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred wisdom, her, to the scepter and throne.’ He preferred wisdom over his own power as king and deemed riches nothing in compared with her, with wisdom. ‘Nor did I liken any priceless gem to her because all gold in view of wisdom is a little sand and before her, wisdom, silver is to be accounted mire.’ Solomon knew although he didn’t alway practice it, but he knew that wisdom, understanding what was most important and having your priorities right was very important. Wisdom in the bible is not being really smart or having a great intelligence, it’s being able to see through the eyes of God in a way. It’s being enlightened by God to see through His lenses and it comes from prayer, from listening in our heart, from disciplining our will, from saying no to some good things so we can say yes to the best thing. This rich young man, the fact that he’s young means he’s early on his journey. We don’t know the rest of his story. Did he grow in wisdom? Did he change his priorities? Did he ever follow Jesus? We don’t know. We hope so. What is the message for us then? Well, first of all the basics are a given. All those things Jesus said, murder, adltery, theft, lies, dishonoring parents, all those are a given. You have to do those if you want to have eternal life and if you’ve failed you need to repent of those, but beyond that where am I on my journey? Where are you on your journey? You may not be yet where you need to be, but let’s hope you’re not where you used to be. Let’s hope you’re on the way somewhere. Am I still like the rich young man? Are my priorities right? Am I clinging to good things at the price of the best things? We can’t do it on our own Jesus tells us, but all things are possible for God he says. That means through prayer, through opening our heart to His grace, to listening, to gaining in wisdom by letting Him speak to us here and truly hearing what He tells us, by receiving the strength through the Eucharist, by opening our heart to Him in prayer, by asking Him to give us wisdom and to strengthen our will so that we can say no to good things so we can have the best things sometimes. We can’t do it on our own. I may not be where I need to be, but thank goodness I’m not where I used to be. We’re all on the way just like that young man. All things are possible with God. Turn to God. Plead for wisdom so that that one thing that He asked the young man will be our choice that we’ll have our priorities right and that we’ll have eternal life.”