15 October 2012
Kenny Chesney & the Rich Young Man
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I’m a fan of country music. Others may have noticed my cowboy boots and country hat that I have worn. One of the popular country stars in these days is Kenny Chesney. He has such hits as “Boys of Fall,” “You and Tequila,” and “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” Lesser known is his song, “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven.” The words of the refrain are: “Everybody wants to go to heaven/ Have a mansion high above the clouds/ Everybody wants to go to heaven/ but nobody wants to go now.”
Today’s readings also focus us on what our priorities are: are they earthly or are they heavenly? In the first reading, the Sacred Author, traditionally regarded as King Solomon, says that he prayed for prudence and wisdom, and he received it. He wanted it more than “scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did [he] liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire.” He didn’t care about good health and being attractive, and even about sleep. Solomon here is not just talking about being book smart or street smart, but is talking about the wisdom from above, the wisdom from God so that Solomon could know what is important, and what is less or unimportant. But, even though Solomon talks about only wanting the wisdom of God, he also says, “Yet all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands.” Having the wisdom of God did not deny Solomon the good things, but, instead, brought the truly good things to him.
Jesus, in the Gospel, talks about obstacles to heaven, as seen in the Rich Young Man. The man had kept all of the commandments, and so Jesus told him that he lacked just one thing: “‘Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’” But the man couldn’t bring himself to make that radical step. The Word of God, Jesus Christ the Divine Word, was sharper than any sword for that man, penetrated between soul and spirit, joint and marrow, and was able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart, and that Rich Young Man’s heart loved his possessions more than he loved Jesus. Now, to be clear, Jesus did not condemn wealth. But, Jesus did condemn making wealth a god, and preferring it to following Him. He also warned how easy it is for riches to become an obstacle to salvation, going so far as to say, “‘It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’” Money so easily becomes a god unto itself which beckons like a siren to be loved and treasured above all else, and to try and make more and more and more.
Now, money isn’t an obstacle for all people. It’s so easy to place other lesser goods between us and the Lord, so that the demand isn’t so great. We could prefer status to Jesus; or vacation; or power; or prestige; or even just our own will. Each of those things, and so many more, can be things that we feel we cannot let go, even if the Lord is calling us to abandon them in order to follow Him more deeply. Our relationship with Jesus, truly knowing Him and loving Him, has to be first, with no excuses why anything else is more important. If today Jesus appeared right in your midst, in His glorified body, and said to you, “You can spend two hours with me here, or I will give you the winning Powerball numbers so you can win $50 million dollars,” what would we say? I know what I should say. And maybe you’re like me, and want to immediately rationalize what we could do with $50 million dollars. But the only right answer is Jesus. And even if money isn’t your temptation, it could be good grades, a good job, a nice vacation getaway, or, again, maybe just having your own way. But, the key is, what comes first for us?
What’s interesting is that the choice isn’t: follow Jesus and be miserable, or follow whatever little god is important to you and have pleasure. After St. Peter tells Jesus, “‘We have given up everything and followed you,’” Jesus replies, “‘there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age…and eternal life in the age to come.’” Now, Jesus is also clear that with following Him comes persecution. But you also receive a lot more, even in this age, not to mention eternal life and happiness with God. Bl. Teresa of Calcutta attests to that; she preferred nothing to Jesus. And even though she didn’t even own the sari on her back and went through intense spiritual darkness, she was truly happy. Venerable Solanus Casey is another good example. He was ordained a priest, but he was not allowed to hear confessions or preach sermons. Most of his work was opening doors to the monastery, and serving the poor. Yet I dare you to find a happier man, who also brought such joy to those he met.
Nothing is more important than our relationship with Jesus. Nothing even comes close to its worth. The Lord asks each of us today: what is an obstacle to our relationship? What keeps us from drawing close to Him? “‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.’”