B Cycle – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time 21
What must I do to inherit eternal life? Believing in eternal life is one thing but the real issue behind the question to Jesus is has he done what is necessary to merit eternal life. The very fact that question was asked should tell us how far his or our views of how to obtain eternal life is incorrect. Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians tells us it is a free gift and there is nothing we can do to earn it or merit it.
So, it is now wonder why his or our ability to strictly follow following the laws of the church leaves us feeling uncertain and doubting eternal life is ours. Note how Jesus knowing what lies at the heart of the question is how we feel holy by clothing ourselves in exterior acts of obedience. Jesus chastised the Pharisees for doing exactly that and telling them their hearts were far from God. The fact is Jesus is telling us something is missing if we judge our “holiness’ by how well we adhere to the law.
Remember the Apollo 13 message “Huston we have a problem?” Well Jesus is telling us today we have a problem and the answer to the problem is to respond to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives and be renewed by the transformation of our minds and hearts.
The problem is because we have an inbuilt concept of right being rewarded and wrong being punished. We have been taught from the moment of our birth “good behavior is rewarded, and bad behavior is punished.” That concept is reinforced by our early years in school, in all aspects of society. Because we have this foundation of believing we must be punished when we do wrong, we do not feel the guilt of our sins removed when we seek forgiveness. This guilt causes us to doubt God’s mercy even if we accept forgiveness. If that man had accepted the invitation to follow Jesus, he would have experienced the joy of knowing how God’s promise to remover our sin and cover our guilt is an absolute spiritual truth we can depend upon.
If we like the man in this gospel depend on the law to define our holiness, we will always struggle with our guilt and our past failures. This lack of trust in God keeps them from knowing God’s heart and how deeply God desires for us to feel his love and to feel forgiveness wash over them like a fresh spring rain.
Depending on our ability to strictly follow the rules also keeps us from experiencing God’s embrace like the Prodigal Son did. Not feeling forgiven leaves wondering like this man, what must we do to obtain everlasting life. We are stuck in a place where we want what God offers us, but we feel we must do something to given to us. The truth is we must do something and that something is to go to God expecting forgiveness and mercy.
Jesus said he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17). We simply need to understand the law was and is necessary in the beginning of our journey into the heart of God. It defined sin for us and as Paul says it keeps us in check, but it can never make our hearts feel the joy of forgiveness.
We only need to look at the story of Adam and Eve to grasp the impact of sin on our lives. Their response to their disobedience was to realize they were naked, and they covered up their shame. They also hid from God. Think about that for a minute because our reaction to sin is exactly the same. We cover ourselves with acts of piety and coupled with strict adherence to the laws The scriptures we remain in the presence of God without interacting with God. We feel holy, righteous and yet we wonder if we are doing enough to merit forgiveness. The guilt of our sins haunts us and all we desire is the same as the prodigal – to be a slave in our Fathers house. A slave is not a son or a daughter; a slave has no rights, no voice and can only obey the command of the Master.
We do not please God by our strict adherence to rules and rituals but instead we please God by bringing our broken self to him and allowing him to embrace us, to restore us and to pour his love into our hearts. We need to have a desire to be in the presence of God. We need to be confident salvation is a gift of grace from God. Given to us by the death of Jesus Christ. When we believe the promise of God, we will become a people who is freed from the guilt of our sins, free to be in the presence of God and allow glory of God’s grace to wash over us.
Instead of defining our holiness by the law, God is showing us in this gospel the way to holiness is by striving to know the heart of God. Know the feeling of his approval because he is a God who delights in restoring us. If we could begin to accept that promise of God, we would not wonder about eternal life. We would instead be enjoying the fullness of life Jesus promised us here and now. If allow the Spirit to enter our hearts, we would become exactly what God intended us to become when he created us – a people after God’s own heart.