My dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Grace and peace in God, our Father, through our humble Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit be with you all. As I read over this Sunday’s readings this past week, I couldn’t help but think, jeesh! These are pretty hard readings to live out. Pretty hard to preach about too. If only I had looked far enough ahead of time to notice just how hard they were. I could have made the pastor preach on these readings! But, considering the fact that he didn’t make me preach on divorce and remarriage last week, I should probably suck it up and preach this week.
Each time that this set of readings comes around, it reminds me of a story that I heard in a homily preparation service that I used to receive. It said, “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 bushes, 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.” How many of us, myself included, would be just as trapped in that tree if there was a roll of hundred dollar bills in the coconut? Or perhaps the key to a luxury automobile? Or maybe a huge diamond wedding ring from that certain man or woman we’ve been dating for a long time?
In today’s gospel, we hear the story of a man who is trapped by the need for success. He asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. He asks the very man who will win eternal life for him by suffering and dying on the cross what he can do to be saved. For some reason, whenever I hear this story, I can’t help but imagine Jesus as a very kind-hearted but somewhat gruff old rabbi instructing a precocious student a hard life lesson. Jesus’ response is to obey the law. But the boy isn’t satisfied. He thinks to himself that that can’t be all there is to do. There has to be more. He seems to say in a very frustrated tone, "Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth." as though he finds fulfillment of the law so easy that it has lost its challenge.
I can just imagine Jesus smiling with love at this young man. And I love the fact that St. Mark includes a detail about how Jesus felt about this faithful-to-a-fault young man. It says that he loved him so he challenged him. He challenged him to give up the coconut so that he could inherit eternal life. “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
The boy’s response is one of obstinace. How could he give up all that he had and follow Jesus? It’s too much to ask. And, yet, it’s not as though Jesus doesn’t turn to each of us and ask something similar. It’s a terrible economy. I might not have my job next week. How can I donate money to the poor? I work forty hours a week or more and that’s not even counting all the preparation I have to do at home. How can I make it to my child’s school event to show them support? I’m too busy! I have always imagined that I would get married and have three or four children with a beautiful wife. I can’t be called to give up all that great stuff for something else that’s great, something like priesthood. We all have excuses that seem perfectly legitimate. What good is it for the boy to sell all he has and give it to the poor without first investigating if the poor will actually use it wisely and not waste it on booze, drugs, and prostitutes? Jesus doesn’t care. The point that he’s trying to drive home is that wealth forces us to pay attention to it, attention that could be paid to God and the family of God. What is stuck between those coconut halves for you? And how can you let it go and be free?