To inherit Eternal Life starts with bringing Ritual and Relationship together

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Readings:  Wis. 7:7-11/Heb. 4:12-13

Psalm:  90:12-17

Gospel:  Mk. 10:17-30


There is a popular meme going around Facebook.  It is an image of someone holding a lightbulb with a question above it that says “How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?”  Then it meme goes through the various denominations.  For example, for the Charismatics, they need only one.  The hands are already in the air.  For the Pentecostals, they need ten:  One to change the bulb and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.  Baptists need at least 15:  One to change the bulb and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad and fried chicken.  The Episcopalians need three: One to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks and one to talk about how much better the old one was.  For the Lutherans and Catholics, they do not need anyone.  The Lutherans don’t believe in change and the Catholics are candles only.  And when you ask the Amish that question, they would ask “What’s a light bulb?”

I started with this bit of levity to highlight a certain consequence of being part of a group, whether it is religious, social, philosophical or political.  The consequence is that when one becomes part of a group, we have a tendency to follow two paths, either intentionally or accidentally.  The first one is to follow the path of ritual, the strict patterns and mannerisms that are prevalent in every organization.  They could be a certain handshake, a wardrobe, memorizing certain phrases and other things that show our allegiance to this group. In fact, a ritualist will based their entire lives upon the rituals set forth by this group. The other path to follow is the one of relationship.  This path is for those who join just for the sake of comradery or, in some cases, a hero worship of one person or the group for their actions with themselves and those around them.  A person would join the group for some personal gain, like if the group has a clubhouse he would join it just to get discounts on the banquet hall.  We want to be part of the group; we just know which group is best or how to join.  Each path has its positives, but the more we go down those paths in search for personal perfection, the longer and longer the path becomes to get to the end.

Why is that?  Mainly it has to do not so much with being part of a group, but to be a group by ourselves.  We think our way is the best (and only) way and that no one on the path we take or the other path can convince us otherwise.  Even when we reach out for advice, it is not so much that we need guidance but that we are looking for affirmation of the choices we have made.   In the Gospel proclaimed today, we hear about a man facing that dilemma in his life.  As Jesus was leaving to go on another journey, the man comes up to him to ask him what he must do to inherit eternal life.  He referred to Jesus as “Good Teacher;” and that sort of set Jesus off.  “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone,” Jesus told him.  Then he went to remind him-and those who were listening-that by observing the commandments is how one inherits eternal life.

This was the ritualistic answer.  In order to enter paradise, one must obey the rules set forth by God and handed down from generation to generation.  This is the way it has always been and it is the way it should be.  So it is written; so let it be done.  And nothing or no one can change any line or stroke of the written law.  Following the rules is easy, clean-cut and simple.  No muss, no fuss; and no thinking.

But this man wanted more.  He was someone who was better off than most.  He wore the finer clothes and had the finer things and had the finer friends.  So he wanted a finer way to eternal life.  Like his life, he wanted more.  He wanted his inheritance to be more.  He wanted a relationship with God.  But he wanted it on his terms.  He had the best.  God was the best.  Therefore, he wanted the best way to God.  It was an inheritance:   part of a fortune to be a member of God’s family.

So Jesus, in his desire to see this man receive this inheritance from God, told him what he must do. “You are lacking one thing” he says. “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  The man was perplexed.  This was a man that wanted to add to his treasure; not to give up anything.  On top of that, Jesus wanted to follow him.  That would mean to him that he had to leave his friends and family-his entire lifestyle.  The man could not take any more of this.  He put his head down, turned around and walked away.

Jesus felt for the man.  He wanted this man to join them.  But the things of this world were keeping him away from obtaining the things that will let him achieve eternal life.  Jesus looked at those around him and stated the difficulties to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  He told them that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter Heaven.  Someone from the crowd cried out “Then who can be saved?”  Jesus said “for human beings it is impossible, but not for God.  All things are possible for God.”  It was more than a message; it was the key that we all need to be able to inherit eternal life.

When we focus too much on ritual or too much on relationship, we add too many burdens that we don’t need or cannot afford.  And the more we cling to one or the other, the more those burdens are set on our backs until when the time comes for us to enter the narrow gate, we are unable to pass through.  For human beings it is impossible.  What Christ is asking us to do-now, today-is to take away some of the burdens that we have taken on the one path (the burdens we thought we needed to enter paradise), add a few of the burdens from the other path and the burden we carry is lighter than we thought, the road taken is much more enjoyable and the gate for us to enter is not only closer, but much easier to enter.

What happens to us human beings when we take ritual and join it with relationship?  We enter into prayer.  It is a prayer that is spoken in the First Reading today from the Book of Wisdom.  “I prayed, and prudence was given me.”  When we who are in prayer join others in prayer, it becomes a sacrament. Sacraments give us the knowledge to live in this world the best way possible.  “I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.”  When the sacraments are used as an invitation, it becomes a church; a church of those who would forsake the things of earth in order to receive the gift of heaven. “I preferred (wisdom and prudence) to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her.”  So, when a church is in total harmony, when ritual and relationship are together as one, it is then that we obtain our inheritance of eternal life. It is then that we can hear the words of Christ that he gave to the man when he said “come, follow me.”





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