Sunday, 11 October 2015

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Read Mark 10: 17-30.

A long way from here, in a land undoubtedly much warmer than Wales, there lies a vast desert, where hot winds drive the rolling dunes in a landscape forever shifting and changing, filled with ever renewed promise.  On the brief crest of a particular dune there stands a huge, lumbering, gruff creature with a humped back and suspicious eyes, completely focused on something tiny glinting in the sand at his feet.  They say that it is difficult to find a needle in a haystack - well let me tell you, it's much harder to find one in a desert, but our friend the camel seems to have done just that.

How it got there is one of those mysteries that I fear we shall never solve, yet there it is, sticking out of the warm sand, bright in the glare of the sun, and it is in the camel's way.  His head is bowed as low as it will go, his eyes squinting to see the obstacle more clearly, and he has just this moment spotted a solution: there is a tiny hole, barely visible, through the head of the needle - to the camel it almost looks like a little eye.  All he needs to do is step through this hole and he can continue on his adventure.

The trouble is, the hole is just a little bit too small for him to comfortably manage.  In fact, he can barely fit a whisker through, and he gets a lot wider than that in places.  Our new friend spits in frustration.

Not far from there, but nearly two thousand years earlier, a young man approached a radical rabbi of increasing fame, and knelt before Him in the dust and drear of the coastal road.  Like so many people who pursue the path to holiness, he felt a deep longing, an emptiness that only God could fill.  As we make progress in the spiritual life, we come to realise just how much progress there is to make; the closer we get to God, the greater our capacity for Him becomes and the harder our souls are to satisfy.  For all the young man had done very well for himself - not only was he a man of wealth and accomplishment, but of great virtue too - this was no longer enough.

Our Lord's response to the young man seems strange at first.  Since we know that He is God, why should He rebuke the man for calling Him good? But Jesus knew the man all too well, as indeed He knows us all, and He saw that the man's success had subtly turned his thinking on its head and knocked him off course on the road to sanctity.  Because the young man had achieved a high degree of discipline and excellence in keeping the Law, he had made the mistake of thinking that perfection was achievable by human means, and so when he saw the Man Who was perfect, he simply saw a man who had achieved perfection, and was seeking advice on how to work harder at growing better, rather than the grace, freely given, of deeper union with God.

No.  Holiness is not about holding on more tightly, but about letting go.  It is not about imposing more restrictions on oneself, but about receiving greater freedom.  We are all of us very tiny and essentially powerless before the ineffable grandeur of God, and if we see everything in terms of ourselves and our abilities, we shall see very little and shall become very set in our ways.

All too easily we become attached to, even dependent on, those things we see as our achievements, our rights, our property - those things we think we control - and we will not accept anything that has its foundation elsewhere.  But then, how are we ever to discover anything new and wonderful? The young man in the Gospel is like a mariner who seeks to explore the mighty ocean, conquer uncharted territories and find unimaginable treasures, as long as he doesn't have to depart from his native coast, or indeed lift his anchor.  He is like a myopic camel, seeking grand adventure by means of a path as impossible to pass as the eye of a needle.

Jesus saw all this, and invited him to cut loose and learn the glorious freedom of the children of God.  He called him, as He calls all of us, to float on the vastness of God's love and trust that the breath of the Holy Spirit will fill his sails and set his course aright.  The Lord invites us to shift our focus from our own little worlds and see, as if for the first time, the height and breadth and depth of the God Who never changes and yet is always new, like a camel who suddenly looks up and around and, shaking his head in embarrassment, finally steps over the stupid needle.


  1. I haven't read a post that is so well written in...well I don't know if I've ever read a blog so well written. Elegant, smooth, and insightful. Love it.

    1. Thank you, Autumn! I am touched by the kindness of your words and grateful that you have taken the time to read mine. God bless you!