The Misfortune of Snatching After Straws
User’s Guide to Sunday, Oct. 14
Sunday, Oct. 14, is the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass Readings: Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30.
There is a promising beginning in this week’s Gospel as the man kneels before Jesus and begs to know what is missing in his life. He had many things — for the Jews, this was seen as a sign of God’s blessing — and he has been faithful in fulfilling the Law, but there must have still been a lingering emptiness within. He wants to know what can fulfill him and believes Jesus can show him. “Good teacher,” he begs, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus’ immediate reply, a seemingly innocuous question, may hold the key to the rest of the exchange: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
No one is good but God alone.
But the significance of those words is lost on the man. When he addresses Jesus again, he simply calls him “Teacher.” Even the full weight of God’s loving gaze does not allow him to see Who is standing before him and the power that he holds.
At the suggestion that he give away his treasure to follow the Lord, to empty himself completely — for that is what he is lacking, complete detachment from worldly riches and their shallow promises — his hopes crumble. It’s too much to ask.
And for every soul — for all of us — this is true. It is too much.
Unless we are given the grace for it.
“I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.” The first reading from Wisdom reveals what Jesus could have given had he only been asked for it: the power to know and choose the better part, to realize that “all gold …. is a little sand.”
In our fallen nature, we need the Lord himself to break the chains that hold us captive to the enticements of the world: influence, money, prestige, possessions, etc. Even the small things can steal our freedom to love with complete abandonment. Isn’t it just too hard sometimes to give up our quiet moments, morning latte or meat on Fridays when it is asked of us?
Like the weeping father pleading for his child in the preceding chapter of Mark, the Lord cannot help but respond to our cry, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” Help me, Lord, to do what I want to do but am powerless to do alone.
Often, we simply have to beg God for help in gently — maybe painfully — prying open our grasping hands, letting everything else fall at his feet, and coming to him absolutely empty of everything but trust. That is how he likes to find us, only so that he can fill us with something lasting and eternally better: himself. “Come,” he urges. “Follow me.” It will not be without suffering, he tells us, as he promised the disciples gathered around him while they watched the man walk slowly away, but it will be far better than an inheritance as worthless as chaff.
Let’s take St. Thérèse as an example of this kind of liberating detachment. Before entering Carmel, she saw the mountains of Switzerland for the first time and was struck profoundly by the splendor of God. “I shall remember what my eyes have seen today,” she wrote, “and I shall easily forget my own little interests, recalling the grandeur and power of God, this God whom I want to love alone. I shall not have the misfortune of snatching after straws.”
Claire Dwyer blogs about motherhood, the sacramentality of everyday life and all things Catholic at EvenTheSparrow.com and contributes regularly to the WomenofGrace.com and CatholicMom.com. Her blogging has also appeared at NCRegister.com. She coordinates adult faith formation at her parish in Phoenix, where she lives with her husband and their six children.