When I was a junior in high school, a movie by the name of “A Few Good Men” was released. The movie tells the story of a cocky young Navy lieutenant, played by Tom Cruise, who serves in the Navy’s JAG core and who is assigned to defend two Marines who are accused of killing a third marine. The defense’s investigation takes them to the Marine base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and face to face with a smug commanding officer named Colonel Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson. At the trial, Col. Jessep is called to testify by Lt. Kaffey and the examination becomes tense and heated. The climax of the exchange between Kaffey and Jessup results in Kaffey’s full-throated demand to Jessup of “I want the truth!” Jessep’s reply serves as an iconic movie moment stating forcefully to Kaffey “you can’t handle the truth!”
In the Gospel this Sunday, Mark recounts for us the rich young man running after Jesus. With enthusiasm and fervor, he throws himself at Jesus’s feet and asks one of the most important questions in all of the Scriptures, perhaps second only to Jesus’s question to his disciples of “who do you say that I am?” The rich young man asks Jesus “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It was one of those moments when you probably could have heard a pin drop among those who heard the question and surely everyone wanted to hear the answer. For the rich young man, and probably for others around him, he was not ready for the answer; he couldn’t handle to truth. What about us?
Make no mistake, the rich young man had not lived a bad life; however, there are two sides to the coin in living what we know as the Christian life. By avoiding evil, the rich young man lived a good life passively; as Christians, we are called to avoid evil while actively seeking to do good. The Christian life calls us to live and to act in ways that reflect the goodness and glory of God and to also live and act in ways that build up the Kingdom of God here and now, that builds up our sisters and brothers. The Christian life that only seeks to avoid evil and does not actively seek the good is a life that is only half-lived.
The rich young man wanted to live a righteous life. He wanted to live a life that would lead him into a greater life still to come, but here is the problem: he wanted to live the present life on his terms. The rich young man was attached to this world and the things that belong to it. This is not to say that the things of this world are bad, but, for the rich young man, and for many of us too, the things of this world, and the comfort that they provide, though only temporary, are a distraction to the greater good that God was seeking for him, and for us, to do. The rich young ma’s heart longed for another world, but his heart was too entrenched in this life. All too often good people run the danger of falling into the trap of a worldliness that knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
You and I are called are to seek the grace of detachment: the ability to let go of anything and everything whether it be relationships, possessions, behaviors, attitudes, power, or privilege; anything that we are moved to value more than life and love with God. This is not saying that we must divest ourselves of the things of this life, but rather that we must see them as secondary to God and to always remember that they can never offer us the ultimate happiness that God wants us to know and share with him.
Now is harvest time. Throughout our diocese, men and women are in the fields harvesting the fruits of the earth. In a little over a month, we as a nation will celebrate Thanksgiving Day, the one civic holiday that remains for rendering thanks to God for the good things he has done. Here at the Cathedral, our parish is beginning its inaugural Season of Stewardship, a time each year when each of us will be invited to examine what we are offering to the Lord in the areas of our giving of our material goods, our prayer and worship, and our service to our sisters and brothers in the parish and beyond.
Examining our stewardship can be hard because we tend to be protective of our fiscal resources, our time, and our energy. The Lord knows this. He knows the challenges that this world throws at us just as he fully understood the challenge that faced the rich young man. The Gospel tells us that the Lord Jesus looked at the rich young man lovingly as he told him the hard truth of what discipleship would demand of him. The Lord Jesus looks at each of us with the same love each day as the world invites us to anchor ourselves to it, telling us to ignore the voice of him who calls each of us by name to follow him.
Consider this Cathedral church that was dedicated to the glory of God and the honor of our Blessed Mother ninety years ago this weekend. It was not built using fiscal reserves. There were no investments to sell then. It was built through the generosity of the men and women of this diocese, many of whom had little to spare, but offered what they could with faith in God and in the life that he promises to all who will follow him unreservedly. They offered what they had as act of stewardship, even though the term “stewardship” was not commonly used among Catholics then. It was an act of stewardship because it was the grateful response of individual disciples for the goodness of God in their lives.
I am asking each of us to examine our own discipleship and stewardship over the next few weeks at the end of which time all of us will be invited to make a pledge to the Lord of our stewardship in our giving, our prayer, and our service to God in this parish. As disciples, we are all capable of growth in stewardship. It may be in one area of stewardship, it may be in all three areas, but none of us can ever truly say that we have given God his due. The Lord wants the totality of who we are, not just a portion, but he also knows that we are weak and that our need for his grace to grow in discipleship is great.
The tragedy of the story of the rich young man is that he simply walked away from Jesus, that he didn’t take the time to follow the Lord, to grow in discipleship, and allow the grace of God to move him further down the path of spiritual perfection. We may find walking the path of greater discipleship & stewardship challenging and difficult. We may even find ourselves faltering at times, but we must remember that we have a loving, patient, and merciful God who does not go back on his word and who never changes his mind concerning the call to discipleship that he has made to each of us.
The truth is that God wants everything from us, the totality of who we are because the truth of our faith is that he gave us himself in Christ his son to save us and call us each day to new and greater life. Let us cooperate with the grace of God given us in so many ways; the grace that seeks to enable us to accept the truth who is Christ our Lord who seeks to set us free.
Father Christopher House is the Rector of the Cathedral and serves in various leadership roles within the diocesan curia, namely Chancellor and Vicar Judicial.