TAKING RISKS IN LOVE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 Peter 1:3–9; Ps 111:1-2,5-6,9-10; Mark 10:17-27 ]
“Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” Like the rich man, we are dissatisfied with life. We might be successful, doing well in our career and even have a beautiful spouse and family. Yet, deep inside us, we know that something is lacking. There is a yearning for something more. In other words, we are seeking for eternal life, the life of God.
However, do we really want it and have the capacity for it? This is the hard question that Jesus asked the rich man. It is significant that this man was a good man. “Jesus said to him, ‘You know the commandments: You must not kill; You must not commit adultery; You must not steal; You must not bring false witness; You must not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days’.” But he was still sad even though he had observed all the commandments. This reminds me of people I have encountered who are so-called righteous, who follow all the rules and commandments of God, like the elder son in the parable of the Prodigal Son, and yet who are rigid, uncompromising, judgemental, cold and fault-finding. They do not appear to be people who are at peace with themselves, at peace with others and with the world. They seem to despise everyone. They have no friends and they seem to be more miserable, more so than the sinners!
Why was this man sad even though he had observed all the commandments? The truth is that the commandments are negative in formulation. They tell us what we should not do but not what we should do. They are good for those who are minimalists and calculative. They do not help a person to love more but to love less and feel justified that they have loved sufficiently. Such is the nature of commandments. They are meant to prevent a person from making mistakes but they do not empower a person to do good. Living a clear conscience is only one thing. It can bring limited happiness and peace. It is a safe way but it will never give you life to the fullest and make you alive.
If we just follow the rules slavishly, we will have no adventure in life. Not taking risks in love means depriving ourselves of excitement and surprises. When we do not take initiatives and risks in love, we live life like a robot, securely, with a fixed routine. No big harm may befall us but there are also no thrills as well. If we want to live dynamically, we must embrace surprises without certainty of the future. An analogy would be those going on holiday. Would you prefer to take an organized tour where everything is planned and made comfortable for you, or a free-and-easy tour which you organize on your own with unpredictability but with the prospect of excitement and surprises?
The gospel invites us to take risks in love. You will get hurt, but you will also be alive! This was the way of God and the way of Jesus. Our Lord did not live a secure and comfortable life. He lived and walked amongst the people. Every day was lived in divine providence, trusting in the love of His heavenly Father, and responding to the situation and the needs around Him. He lived out what He taught, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Mt 6:31-34) The psalmist invites us to be true in God. “The Lord keeps his covenant in mind. He gives food to those who fear him; keeps his covenant ever in mind. He has shown his might to his people by giving them the lands of the nations.”
True happiness in life is not just about adventure but taking risks in loving. The greater the capacity to love, the greater is the happiness. This explains why missionaries of Christ and of charity are never rich but they live very rich lives because their lives are expended in the service of others. It is the capacity to give one’s life for others in love that will determine how happy we are. This was what the Lord said to the rich man. “Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, ‘There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’” This was true for the early Christians who were ready to suffer for Jesus because they knew that their happiness lay in loving Jesus unto death. St Peter commended them saying, “You did not see him, yet you love him; and still without seeing him, you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls.”
Hence, the rich man left sad. “His face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.” He could not let go of his wealth. He could not love beyond himself and his false security in his possessions and in obeying the minimum requirements of the laws. He was attached to his idols, which is his “salvation through obedience to the laws” and his possessions. By so doing, he remained empty and unfulfilled because he had yet to participate in the love of God. We are also sad because we have our attachments. Many of us are afraid to love. We give the little out of our abundance just to satisfy our conscience and soothe our guilt. Indeed, how much have we shared with others, compared to what we have received from the Lord? Very few of us can be like St Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa, or other saints, who left everything to serve the Lord and His people, keeping not a single possession to call their own.
Indeed, this is the tragedy of many of us. We are imprisoned by our own fears and lack of capacity to love others. “Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were astounded by these words, but Jesus insisted, ‘My children,’ he said to them ‘how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were more astonished than ever.”
So how can we love like Jesus and God? With God, everything is possible. This is what the Lord says. Only with God, not with men! We must rely on God’s grace and His divine providence. Can we? If only we can just trust in God and live from hand to mouth without worrying about the next day, life would be so great. We will be so free in love. But then we also need to be responsible for those under our care and be good stewards. Therefore, the worries and anxieties do weigh us now and constrain us from giving ourselves fully to service. But there is a possibility that we can be calculative and then rationalize our stinginess, like the rich man. Even the disciples were like that before Jesus’ death and resurrection. They could not give their lives to God and their fellowmen. They were ambitious, struggling for power and status.
Are we doomed to a half-fulfilled life? Only those enlightened by the Lord and loved by Him deeply can let go completely; unless, we have the faith of the early Christians under persecution. We must contemplate and find strength from the death and resurrection of Christ to love like Him. St Peter wrote, “Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy has given us a new birth as his sons, by raising Jesus Christ from the dead, so that we have a sure hope and the promise of an inheritance that can never be spoilt or soiled and never fade away, because it is being kept for you in the heavens.”
Only faith in Christ, can help us let go and surrender our lives to Him. “Through your faith, God’s power will guard you until the salvation which has been prepared is revealed at the end of time. This is a cause of great joy for you, even though you may for a short time have to bear being plagued by all sorts of trials; so that, when Jesus Christ is revealed, your faith will have been tested and proved like gold.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
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