Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Both scripture readings today describe how people choose idols (objects of extreme devotion) instead of their relationship with God. Whether worshipping Baal, wealth, power, or honor, our human instinct seems to pull us towards being in control and away from placing our trust in God. Despite our stubbornness and indifference, God continually calls us back as His mercy endures forever.
In the first reading, the Israelites have taken on the customs and religions of the surrounding peoples. They worship Baal and other foreign gods, but God sends judges to help call them back to Him. Again and again, they fall back to their wayward beliefs, but every time, God responds with judges that give the people guidance and display God’s wisdom. Although the Israelites suffered many losses during this time, I do not believe that this is the wrath of an angry God punishing the Israelites. Suffering and loss are part of our daily living. God does not give hardship to inflict pain, but God can use these situations to gently remind us of our need for His love and mercy. When we are at our lowest point, we often realize the “idols” that we have placed before God cannot provide us the necessary assurance that God’s grace, mercy, and love can give.
The young man in today’s gospel asks Jesus how to gain eternal life. Jesus responds by explaining the importance of loving and respecting our fellow human beings, but Jesus goes on to explains that the young man must “sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Jesus recognizes that it is wealth that is keeping the young man from his relationship with God. Although possessions and wealth can be impediments to our discipleship, power, and honor are other “idols” that can keep us focused on our good- not God’s. It is often difficult to see the idols that prevent our full commitment to God, and once we recognize them, it is even harder to change our ways. Fortunately, Jesus becomes the perfect example of how to live in right relationship with both others and with God. His detachment from material possessions and power, and His great humility (even though He is God), illustrate how we are called to live. When we place God in the forefront and allow God to direct our thoughts, words and actions, we will have “treasure in heaven”, since we will be living in/with God. There is no expectation that life will be easy (seeing Jesus’ passion and death clearly points this out to us.) What there will be is a sense of God’s presence that brings a peace even in the midst of the storms of life.
Finding our false idols requires prayerful discernment. Asking God to show us and then listening and trusting in His response takes great faith. Just like the young man we can go to Jesus and ask, “What must I do?” The challenge is following through once we recognize God’s call for change. To put God first may require a change in job, a change in our lifestyle, a change in a relationship, or a change in behavior that is leading us away from God’s presence. God often will send us “judges”- friends, family or people surrounding us that help us hear His words. Fortunately, God’s Spirit within us provides the grace, courage, and wisdom to follow through. God calls each of us to seek and remove the idols that keep us from living fully in Christ. When we can prayerfully surrender our hopes, dreams, expectations and desires to God and choose the path that God has shown to us, then we can live in a freedom that allows us to boldly live as disciples of Christ.
Creator Father, Jesus shares Your love with us and shows us how to live in total dependence on you. Send down Your Spirit, so we can surrender all we have to You and Your will. May our thoughts, words, and actions reveal Your love to the world, so others may come to know You and Your Presence. We pray this in and with Christ. Amen.