Saturday, October 10, 2009

Whose voice are you listening to?


One day, two friends were walking along the crowded streets of a big city. The street was full of the typical noise of people, cars, busses, construction – the normal hubbub of daily city life. Suddenly, one of the two friends stopped and said, “Can you hear that cricket?” The other friend was astonished, “You can’t possibly hear a cricket with all this noise; cars honking, taxis squealing.” The first friend was certain and walked over to a planter along the sidewalk. Pushing aside the branches of a bush, sure enough, there was the cricket. His friend was bewildered, “How did you ever hear that?” The man simply said, “My ears are no different than yours. It only depends on what you are listening for. Here let me show you what I mean.” He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change – a few nickels, some quarters and a dime – and then dropped them on the sidewalk. Immediately, every head within a block turned in his direction. “You see,” he said again, “it just depends on what you are listening for.”

In our Gospel passage today, the rich young man asks Jesus a straight-forward question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells him, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” We know how this story ends, “he went away sad, for he had many possessions?” I always feel sorry for this young man. He certainly meant well. He tells us at the outset that he has faithfully observed all of the commandments from his youth. But, what Jesus asks of him is just too much to bear.

You know this is the only person in the Gospels that we are specifically told refused to follow Jesus once invited. As I said, he meant well, but his trouble was that his possessions meant more to him. It only depends on what you are listening for. This man was faced with a choice – security with Jesus, or security in the bank; rely on Jesus or rely on money. It is a human predicament that we’ve all felt at one time or another, and the sad situation of this passage is that the young man chose to listen to the voice of the world instead of the voice of the Lord.

Every one of us in this Church tonight are faced with the same choice. We too are invited under the same conditions to follow Jesus. And like the young man, it isn’t easy for us to make a wholehearted and complete choice. And we too are asked today – what voice are we listening to? What held back the rich young man was his many possessions, but it may not be the same for us. Today’s Gospel challenges us to take a close look at our own lives and ask, What is it that is holding me back from following Jesus? What is it that’s causing me to drag my feet? Could it also be money for us? Maybe not the money we need to live, but perhaps a dishonest way of making it, a habit of cheating, or overcharging, or stealing that has found its way into our lives? Could it be our need for the best of possessions in life? The newest gadget? The name brand?

Maybe it isn’t money or possessions for us – it could be something else – grudges we refuse to let go of; indifference towards the plight or struggles of others. To follow Jesus is to follow in love. “Love one another, just as I have loved you.” Perhaps what is keeping us from following Jesus is a spirit of negativity, an attitude that always finds the worst in others; a tongue that is always quick to cut down. It could be as simple as laziness – to lazy to care; to lazy to say my prayers.

The bottom line is that there are many ways that we can come up short when it comes to following Jesus. The danger in today’s Gospel is that we can be tempted to say about the rich young man, “Wasn’t it a shame that he didn’t follow Our Lord?” But, we should save our sorrow for ourselves. We are given the choice today, right here and now, and every day to follow Jesus. And if we’re not aware of that, we may be just like the rich young man walking away.

I wonder sometimes what happened to the rich young man. Did he become a rich old miser? Did his money make him happy? Did he lose it all along the way? I like to think that he came to his senses, came back running, made the choice with all of his being – and followed Jesus all the way to that eternity he first asked about. But, from what we know in today’s passage, the saddest thing about the rich young man is that he missed out on an opportunity. He missed the chance to do so much good; to reach out to so many people; to serve Jesus in the world as His follower. Imagine if St. Paul had made the same choice; or St. Peter or Andrew or Mary Magdalene or Pope John Paul II, Padre Pio or any of the spiritual heroes and heroines that each of us know.

And therein lies the message for each of us today. What a tragedy it would be if we made the same poor choice. Jesus puts the same invitation before us today, “Come and follow me.” And so I leave you with a simple question, “Whose voice are you listening to?”

May the Lord give you peace.

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