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The wisdom of letting go.

TWENTY-EIGHT SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, OCTOBER 11, 2009

Wis 7:7-11; Ps 90; Heb 4:12-13; Mk 10:17-30

When you were a child, did you ever thrust your hand into a candy jar and grab all you could only--to find out that then you couldn't remove your hand? Solving such a dilemma required some thought: Your sweet tooth would urge you to keep your grasp closed around the goodies, to get as much as possible. Nevertheless, in the end, you would have to search for a better solution. Aside from breaking the jar, the only sensible way to extricate your hand would be to relinquish the candy.

Solomon, to whom today's first reading has been pseudonymously attributed, learned to apply this childhood lesson to matters of greater importance. When God gave him the choice to put his hand into the great candy jar of worldly pleasures and possessions ("Ask something of me and I will give it to you," 1 Kings 3:5), Solomon let go of all else in order to be blessed by God with the gift of wisdom. Enlightened by that gift, Solomon challenged others to be willing to let go, even of what they most treasured, in order to live by God's wisdom. Recall the two women who claimed to be mother to the same child. When Solomon offered to divide the child in two, the true mother was willing to let go of her son in order to spare him (1 Kings 3:16-27).

Today's Gospel issues a similar challenge to let go. As he was setting out for Jerusalem, the Marcan Jesus was approached,. by a man who desired to inherit eternal life. He had kept God's law and may have thought that he was well-prepared for the kingdom Jesus came to preach. But Jesus pressed the man toward a holiness he had not anticipated. Let go of your possessions, challenged Jesus; give them to the poor and Come follow me, unencumbered and free.

Mark leaves his readers hanging at this point. He does not give us an example to follow. He simply states that "the man went away sad, for he had many possessions." The sad man's departure poses a series of questions for readers of the Gospel: What would I do? What am I willing to let go of in this great candy jar of life in order to respond fully to Jesus' call to discipleship? Am I able to unclench the fists that hold tightly to the things that give my. life a sense of security and well-being? Can I let go of my nest egg, my rainy-day fund? Can I even let go of relationships that ground me and make me Who I am?

Jesus promises that the letting go he asks of his disciples is not without its positive rewards (rewards a hundredfold--houses, brothers, sisters, eternal life), and it also has its negative repercussions (persecutions). Nevertheless, the choice is ours alone to make. Do we accept this very hard word of Jesus (sell, give, come, let go)or not? Do we, like Solomon, prefer God's word and God's wisdom to all else? Do we hold word and wisdom above power and prestige? Above riches and financial security? Above health and beauty?

This word's profound challenge is ably presented by the author of Hebrews, who in today's second reading says it is as penetrating as a two-edged sword. 'The word of God is always there--directed at the very heart of who we are, aimed at all that we hold dear, focused upon what we clutch close in order to feel safe and sound and secure. Making its relentless queries, issuing its inexorable requests, the word of God does not only ask questions and extend challenges; it is a living and effective force, one that graces our every attempt to answer.

This enabling grace has been beautifully attested in the Gospel, where the Marcan evangelist adds a touching detail to his narrative. He tells his readers that when the rich man presented himself, "Jesus, looking at him, loved him." With this same love, Jesus looks on every one of his disciples. His love empowers each of us to hear the hard, challenging words that mold and shape and direct our faith. His love assures us that when we let go of all that may come between ourselves and Jesus, we are thereby allowing God and grace and goodness to enter into our lives--there to abide, there to act, there to accomplish God's loving plan for us and for all.

[Patricia Sanchez holds a master's degree in literature and religion of the Bible from a joint degree program at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.]
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Title Annotation:The Word Scripted for Life
Author:Sanchez, Patricia Datchuck
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 2, 2009
Words:787
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