Daily Reflection
August 16th, 2004
Andy Alexander, S.J.
University Ministry and the Collaborative Ministry Office
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

Ezekiel 24:15-23
Deuteronomy 32:18-19, 20, 21
Matthew 19:16-22

You forgot the God who gave you birth. Deut. 32.

When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad,
for he had many possessions.
Matt. 19.

The Gospel is incredibly contemporary. A young man approaches Jesus with a sincere and beautiful question. He knows Jesus is capable of responding to his desire so he just goes up to Jesus and makes his request.

Eternal life - How do I gain it? Jesus answers him by saying, "You know the answer. Obey the commandments." The young man, with the enthusiasm of youth, responds, "Oh, I've done that." Encouraged by his success at "gaining eternal life," the young man really goes for it and asks our question today: "What do I still lack?" Of course, Jesus accepts the deep and wide-open question and shares with the young man the secret of Eternal life:

"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."

The biting tragedy of the story is that the young man couldn't accept Jesus' answer. He "went away sad." He found the limit of the desire he thought was so great. His limit? "He had many possessions."

Jesus helps the young man, and us, turn the question around: "What do I lack?" becomes, "What do I have too much of?" When we know what we have too much of, we know what possesses us. We discover the limits of our freedom. We discover what our desires really are. Ignatius of Loyola says, "Love expresses itself in deeds more than in words."

We know that our past wounds and "handicaps" are often what makes it difficult for us to love heroically. However, one of the greatest obstacles to love is not what we lack, but what we have too much of. That's why Jesus will respond (in tomorrow's gospel) that it is very difficult for the "rich" to enter the Kingdom of God. It is why he said there was a blessing in being "spiritually poor." He knew that our heart would be where our "treasure" is.

Too often, we can't love - give our lives away in loving others - because we can't surrender what we are addicted to, or even break out of the patterns of what we are used to. Getting attention, and being at the center of attention, is just too wonderful. How I look, how I'm perceived, how my external image has been cultivated, are too great an investment of mine to compromise now. The security I have is just too comfortable to explore uncharted territory. Being someone that others listen to has become so rewarding that I really find it extremely difficult to listen to others. I don't have time to give, even to those nearest me, because I can't risk being less successful. Ultimately, the poor of the world are a threat to us, for they want or demand what we have. Even though we've heard Paul IV proclaim, "If you want peace, work for justice," we'd rather have war than threaten what we have, that acting justly requires.

So, it is a great day to ask, "What do I have too much of?" It is the threshold question. I either go away sad, or I look around me and see the needs of those around me and I hear the cry of the poor. Then I can choose the path of greater freedom. Today I can begin by squandering a bit more time and attention on those nearest me. Today I can practice really listening to what people are saying around me, and really affirming the goodness in them. Today, I can examine all that has been given to me, and ask for the grace to lavish some of that goodness on others. Today, I can be like that successful farmer in Jesus' parable (Lk 12:17). That farmer said, "Oh, what shall I do with all of this? I'll have to build bigger barns!" I can say, "What return can I give to the Lord for all of his goodness to me? (Ps. 116) Let me share what I have more gratefully and generously."


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