Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon Blaine Barclay

October 14, 2018


The poet T.S. Eliot says that we are searching for ‘a condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything.’ This quote captures quite well the heart of our readings today.

The first reading begins with the phrase. “I prayed, and understanding was given me;… and the spirit of wisdom came to me.” It asks us to desire wisdom above all things. But what is wisdom, and what is understanding? Job 28:28 says, “The fear of the Lord (reverence and awe for God) is the beginning of wisdom. To depart from evil, that is understanding.” Wisdom is both an interior disposition, a capacity to discern the inter-connectedness of things, including to know that we don’t know; and a matter of prudence, of practical wisdom, what is to be done and what is to be avoided. Finding within ourselves with Gods grace, the capacity to act in accordance with wisdom. Let us pray and call upon God to turn our lives into a wisdom quest. Not to be among those who think themselves to be wise, but simply to love and desire wisdom.

How do we go about doing this? Especially if we are not really awake to this dimension of life. We need to take a good honest look at our lives, to make a beginning. A line from our Psalm points the way. “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” “Help me to know the shortness of my life.” It may be uncomfortable, but meditation on the mystery of death, has always been connected with wisdom. Not just death in general, death in the abstract, death as a condition of our common humanity; but my own particular death. Do we not ask Our Lady, ‘pray for us, now, and at the hour of our death’.

Perhaps it is because I have been present at the death bed of both of my parents in the last 3 years, or that 5 good friends of mine have died since I turned 50, or that I am now collecting the ‘old age pension’. For whatever reason, it is getting easier to discern the connection between wisdom and meditation on the mystery of death. We all need a wakeup call in these matters, something that shocks us into wakefulness with regard to the spiritual life.

Our second reading today nails it on the head, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword… able to discern the interior matters of the heart.” As a ‘living and active’ word, it is as present to us as much as it was to its original hearers. This word of wisdom works like a leaven in the loaf of our hearts. A growing familiarity with scripture is a great way of kneading the yeast of this ‘imperishable word’ into our way of life, of learning how to walk in this way of wisdom. Christ himself is Wisdom Incarnate. St. Jerome tells us, “Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ.” So, it is important for all of us to find even little ways to cultivate a greater familiarity with scripture, especially the New Testament, the gospels in particular, for it is in the gospels that we will meet the person of Jesus in all his attractive radiance.

In conclusion, our gospel opens for us another path. Where both wisdom and understanding, encounter the loving gaze of Christ. Where the rich man asks for all of us the decisive question, “What must I do to  inherit eternal life”? To which Jesus gives a classic Jewish answer, in short, keep the commandments. ‘If you wish to enter into life keep the commandments. To which this no doubt cultivated man who has studied the Torah his whole life answers with respect, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth”. Jesus’ response to this is decisive for all of us. First, and this is foundational, “Jesus looked at him, and loved him”. This is true for each one of us, under the gaze of Christ we encounter the look of love. Jesus’ next word is also a word for us. “You lack one thing”, ‘the one thing necessary’. Jesus looks straight into the rich man’s heart and calls him to the one thing necessary, to give up the one thing he is not willing to surrender. “Sell what you own and give the money to the poor”. Jesus knows the idols of our hearts. The one thing necessary that he asks of each one of us. Beyond keeping the commandments. Like the rich man in our story it may be our love of money, or it may be power, status, fame, recognition, the constant need to be distracted or entertained, an addictive behaviour pattern. Whatever the idols that keeps us from getting through the eye of the needle. Jesus wants the allegiance and affection of our heart. With him all things are possible, even our salvation.