WORDS THAT CUT – Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 23, Year B; Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (RC)

October 10, 2021

Revised Common Lectionary
Job 23:1-9, 16-17 or Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Psalm 22:1-15 or Psalm 90:12-17
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Wisdom 7:7-11
Psalm 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17 (14)
Hebrews 4:12-13
Mark 10:17-27 (28-30)

Words have the power to cut, for good or for ill.

in today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, the author reflects on the cutting power of God’s word—”sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow” (Heb 4:12). The words of a powerful orator or a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist may have a significant impact on people and events, but the word of God is something more—it is “living and active” (4:12). Much like a surgical knife, God’s word brings about clarity and transformation.

Today’s Gospel provides an example of just how incisive God’s word can be. A man had come to Jesus with one question—how to gain eternal life—and came away with the answer to a different one: how to accomplish the one thing lacking. The man who approached Jesus was clearly a good person who had kept the commandments his entire life. The Gospel writer tells us that Jesus looked at the man “and loved him” as he uttered these challenging words: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor . . . then come, follow me” (Mk 10:21).

Jesus spoke in a way that pierced the heart of the earnest questioner while at the same time exposing the problem of wealth for those who would be his disciples. As the man received these living words of Jesus, “he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions” (10:22). Jesus did not chase the man down or soften the difficult message he had just delivered. Instead, he turned to his disciples and elaborated further: “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! . . . It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (10:23, 25).

How does God’s living word move in our hearts today as we hear this challenging message? Americans and Canadians live in societies that foster a consumerist way of life and regard the accumulation of wealth as a virtue. Some Christian preachers have even promoted a “prosperity gospel,” claiming that God wants us to be rich in the world’s goods. These attitudes lie squarely at odds with the teaching of Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, in which Jesus warns his followers about the dangers of wealth.

Jesus does not, however, encourage his followers to be destitute or discourage them from making an honest living. He himself accepted the hospitality of wealthy people during his ministry; he received financial support from some of the women who followed him; his band of disciples held a purse, presumably for day-to-day expenses.

Yet he does call us, his disciples, to cast our lot with the poor, the lowly, the sorrowing, the marginalized—the last and least who have first place in the reign of God. In the teaching we hear today, Jesus warns us against attachment to wealth that inhibits our total commitment to that reign, and at the same time he commands us to use that wealth in providing for the needs of the poor.

The words of Jesus cut sharply in a consumerist society where success is measured by the size of one’s portfolio. The followers of Jesus are to embrace a wisdom that eschews attachment to wealth and to model ways of living in which the goods of the world are shared so that there is enough for all.

A Hymn for Today: “Wildflowers Bloom and Fade”

Many English-speaking Christians treasure Isaac Watts’ eighteenth-century paraphrase of Psalm 90, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” Contemporary hymn writer Ruth Duck, FHS, has created a new interpretation of this text in which, as in Watts’ version, the singing community seeks the wisdom that comes by acknowledging that God alone endures and then by entrusting our lives and our work to God.

Wildflowers bloom and fade,
soon come and gone,
but God, from age to age
you still live on.
Older that time and space,
you are our dwelling place.
Keep us in your embrace,
O God, our home.

Your love will never end;
our days are brief.
Our years are full of sin,
labor, and grief.
You turn us back to dust,
yet all your ways are just,
so we will live in trust,
O God our home.

Our lives are like the rose
that quickly dies.
Teach us to count our days;
God, make us wise.
Though time flies swiftly past,
God, let our good work last.
Your strong arms hold us fast,
O God, our home.

Fill us with faithful love
as morning wakes.
Let us rejoice in you
as each day breaks.
May your great work be known,
your power on earth be shown.
Do not forget your own,
O God, our home.

Text: Ruth C. Duck, 1995, © The Pilgrim Press. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857

Image Credit: Wikimedia, Category: Wealth

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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