"Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?" Matthew 19:16
The readings for today’s Mass contrast expectations and experience. The first reading is all about the experience of God’s chosen people and their inability to hold fast to the expectations of being faithful to the One True God and God’s Covenant. The second reading is about the expectation of gaining eternal life and the good that one has to do to gain eternal life. This is the story of our lives. This is our faith journey. We expect to do better each day. Sometimes, we experience failure. We are unable to live up to our expectations to do the good that we need to in order to gain eternal life.
The one notion that stood out in the first reading is the idea of abandonment. Abandonment is used three times in the first reading. The people of Israel had crossed over the Jordon and had established themselves as a nation. They began to believe that it was their doing that made them successful. So fidelity to God, fidelity to the good was abandoned as a way of life and many people fell away from the Covenant that God had made with them. They abandoned God by following "the other gods of the various nations around them. . ." (Judges 2:12) But God did not abandon them, even though he disciplined them for their wrong doing. God sent them judges, men and women who brought justice and integrity back to the People of God.
I think that most of us ask ourselves the question, what makes us stray from God and the good God wants us to do? Our experience tells us that abandoning God will ultimately bring despair and hopelessness. We sometimes allow the bad things that happen to us to change our faith in God. Because bad things happen to us we think that God has abandoned us. Just because we experience hard times and personal suffering, we begin to believe that God is not found in the pain and suffering that we have. We begin to measure God’s presence by the absence of pain and suffering.
It is then that we are asked to learn from our experience. Our experience tells us that the more we abandon God, the less we are able to do the good required of us. We can pretend that life is good or that we are good, but we also believe that God will have the last Word. We forget that Jesus held on to God’s Love on the Cross. God did not abandon Him. We too can find God in our in our pain and suffering.
Sometimes we are tempted to measure our lack of personal success with the world’s standard of success, fame and money. We ask, "how come God doesn’t strike public sinners down?" We judge these people to be so bad, so public with our sense of sin that God should strike them down. Is it our role to be God and judge others? Or are we called to be faithful to the Covenant that we have made with God through our baptism and live in a manner that is faithful to God?
So, what good must we do to gain eternal life? Love God and love our neighbor without condition. We cannot do this on our own. Let us ask God daily to do the good that we need to do in order to gain eternal life!
Fr. Clemente Barrón, C.P. is stationed in San Antonio, Texas.