Come with Open Hands

The man in today’s gospel is eager – he runs to Jesus full of desire – yet also caught up in self-centredness. He wants ‘eternal life’ — that is a life that knows no bounds, a life that is not limited by space and time, but that keeps on filling his heart from the fount of all life who is God. But he is not concerned for others.

This same desire is expressed frequently in the psalms: ‘As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.’ (Psalm 42:1‐2). ‘O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, like a dry and weary land without water’ (Psalm 63:1).

We all know this desire. And it is no surprise when this young man experiences it that he is attracted to Jesus. And we are told that Jesus looked steadily at him, he gazed upon him and loved him. “There is one thing that you lack.”

So why did he go away sad? What was his problem? 

Life is a gift. How can we accept a gift if our hands are already full, and we don’t want to let anything go? For the young man in today’s gospel the problem was not wealth. Rather it was the fact that he possessed his riches. And in some way his riches possessed him. He controlled his life and he thought he could stay in control and possess eternal life as well. But we can’t. As Jesus says, salvation – finding the life we seek and need – is impossible for us; we can’t get it on our own. It comes from God.

This was the man’s problem. Therefore he went away grieving. Being rich he expected to have control. He thought he could save himself if only he knew what more he could do. Jesus makes it quite clear that if we truly want to live to the full we have to learn to have empty hands. If there is anything to which we are clinging we have to let it go in order to free our hands to be open to receive life from God who is love. We want to fly and be free to let our desire carry us into the arms of our Father. It doesn’t matter if we are like a bird that is tied by a thin string or a heavy rope – we can’t fly until we cut whatever stops us being free… (see St John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 1, Ch 11, para 4.2)

The man in the gospel has a problem with material possessions. The problem for the scribes and Pharisees was knowledge and power. We are being invited to ask ourselves what is it that is stopping me from receiving what my heart most longs for. Is there something that is cluttering up my life? Am I, like the young man, too proud to go to God with empty hands and receive love like a little child, knowing that it is a gift of love over which I cannot claim control?

We all share the same desire, and we are all being drawn to the one source of all love. But we all start in different places and so while we are all heading in the direction of Jesus we are walking different paths. What is an obstacle for one person may not be so for another. But wherever we are, the risen Christ is calling each of us to him and offering us that for which we most long. To receive it, however, we will have to let something go. Whatever it is that is blocking our journey, that is the possession which we must give up.

As a way of reflecting on this, could I suggest that we each take time today to pray quietly the psalm chosen for today (Psalm 89/90). The psalmist reflects on how quickly the years pass and on the tenuous hold we have on life. He then goes on to reflect on the pain we experience because of our and other people’s sin. Let us remember the advice of St John of the Cross: ‘God does not give grace and love except according to the soul’s desire and love. The more the soul desires and loves, the more God gives.’ (Spiritual Canticle 13.12).

There is no need for us to go away sad, for he loves us and longs to give himself to us. Can we free ourselves to receive him more fully?

Sunday 28, Year B. Mark 10:17-30

Message inspired by Fr Michael Fallon msc

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