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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - It's Time for a Radical Choice

Robert Barron - It's Time for a Radical Choice

Robert Barron - It's Time for a Radical Choice

Peace be with you. Friends, our first reading from the book of Wisdom and our Gospel are meant to be read in tandem. And they articulate such an important principle of what I'll call spiritual physics. So anybody interested in the dynamics of the spiritual life, we've got to attend to these readings. They have to do with the play, if I can put it this way, between worldly goods, riches, and wisdom. So look now in the first reading, which is taken from the book of Wisdom. And traditionally Solomon himself is seen as the author of this book. So the paradigmatic wise figure from the Old Testament enunciates these various principles. So listen now to what he says: "I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison to her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand".

Now, it's an extraordinary thing. Again, imagine Solomon is the speaker of this, Solomon. Look in the first book of Kings in the Old Testament. There's no king in Israel who had greater wealth, riches, and power than Solomon. He's presented as the greatest of the kings of Israel. They actually enumerate for us the amount of wealth and coinage and gold and everything. Solomon had every worldly thing you could want. But again, "I pleaded," so he's saying, "I asked God, and wisdom came to me, and I thought that was better than scepter and throne, that means all the power I've got, and I deemed riches nothing in comparison to her. So even all this pile of wealth of mine means nothing compared to wisdom".

Now, what's he talking about when he says wisdom? He doesn't just mean scientific knowledge. That's maybe part of it, but wisdom in the Bible means seeing life from the perspective of God. It means having an intimacy with God by which I now understand the world and live my life. That's this highest value that Solomon properly sees as greater than any of the goods in the world. I always think here of the great French Catholic philosopher Blaise Pascal. He made the distinction between the goods of the body, the goods of the mind, and the goods of the heart. Well, the goods of the body, those are all these things that wealth can buy, all the pleasures of the world, the nice place to live and clothes and sensual pleasure, etc.

Okay, fine. Good in themselves. But we're not meant to be stuck at that level. Rather, we become beguiled eventually by the goods of the mind that transcend any of the goods of the body, when you fall in love with philosophy and with mathematics and with the higher sciences and you realize they bring you into a more refined world.

My favorite story here is always the one told of Thomas Aquinas as he and a few Dominican brothers were approaching the city of Paris, which would've been one of the most glorious cities in the civilization of that time, and they saw the towers and turrets of the city before them. And one of the brothers said, "Ah, what wouldn't you give to have Paris"? And Aquinas reportedly said, "I'd much rather have Chrysostom's commentary on Matthew". That's somebody who's risen above the mere preoccupation of the goods of the body and has become open now to the goods of the mind. But beyond even those, Pascal said, are the goods of the heart. That means those values associated with God.

Now, that's the wisdom Solomon's talking about. Once he'd been brought into that world of value, he realized that everything else, all the power and wealth of the world, even the goods of the mind, are nothing compared to these highest goods, compared to wisdom. Okay, so that's one principle of spiritual physics, but here's an interesting one, related one. Listen now. "Yet all good things come together and come to me in her company, and countless riches at her hand".

Now, here's the principle. When you have wisdom, you see the world from God's perspective, you've reached this highest level. Then you'll know what to do with the wealth that's been given to you. Suppose you've been given worldly power, worldly wealth. Okay. If you've got wisdom, then you know what to do with them. They come together. They make sense. It's not a strict either/or, like I simply have to eschew all those things. No, I must first move into the realm of wisdom and then I'll know what to do with the goods of the world. Okay. So with that, or maybe those two principles in mind, now we look at the Gospel, which is this marvelous story of the rich young man. I don't know if it's true for you, but it's been for me a story that has long intrigued me, troubled me, beguiled me, bugged me, and that's always a sign to me of a deep spiritual truth being conveyed, when it kind of gets into us.

What do we hear now? Well, there's this wealthy young man. I always imagine him as, I don't know, seventeen, eighteen, years old. Described as wealthy so he's, he's got many of the goods of the world, and he comes to Jesus. "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life"? Now notice something first of all. This is a very good sign, that though he's got all the goods of the world, he implicitly knows they're not enough. I mean, otherwise, why would he bother with this itinerant preacher? Why would he come running up to this spiritual teacher and ask about eternal life? He must intuit that the goods of the world, no matter how great they are, are not eternal, they don't satisfy the deepest longings of the heart. He has to know that. And that's a good thing.

And he comes up to Jesus with the question. How does Jesus respond? Well, you know the commandments, and he enumerates some of them. You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal, etc. Okay. What's the first step toward wisdom, toward the highest value, toward eternal life? Well, first you got to eliminate from your life all those sins that stand in the way of attaining this level. If wisdom, life on high with God, means a life of love ultimately, well then you've got to get rid of those egregious violations of love in your life.

You can't be stealing people's goods. You can't be killing people. You can't be committing adultery. These are fundamental violations of love. It's like someone learning a sport. You've got to get the fundamentals in place. You have to eliminate these really basic problems that you have. So, okay. There's the first step. And the kid says, "Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth". Okay. I don't disbelieve him. There's a sign that he's spiritually serious. He's coming to Jesus asking for eternal life. And, okay, I've covered the basics. I've eliminated these egregious violations of love. And I think Jesus, reading his heart, senses that he's being honest because he says, "Looking at him, he loved him and said, 'You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.'"

We're at a very pivotal place in the Gospel right now. He's a good kid. He's good. He has a good instinct, asking Jesus about eternal life. He's not just stuck at the level of the body. He's done a lot of the basics. He's covered the basic ground. And Jesus knows that. So now he's saying, "Okay, if you are ready for the high-octane spiritual life, you're ready for real wisdom, for real communion with God, then you got to sell what you've got. Give it to the poor and come after me". It's time for a radical choice. It's time for a radical move.

See, what's he sensing? I think this is the pivot of this story, the fulcrum of it, that though his instincts are right, they're good, Jesus knows this kid is still too drawn to that world. He's still got a tendency to get stuck in the goods of the world, power and pleasure and riches. So, okay. Make the move, make the move, set those things aside and follow me to the heights. And I don't know, for my money, one of the very saddest lines in the whole Bible, because it's so rare in the Gospels that Jesus calls someone and the person doesn't respond. Almost in every other case.

Like Matthew, "Matthew, follow me," and he got up that minute and followed him. The sons of Zebedee, "Come, follow me," and they left their nets and they followed him. Peter, "Leave me. I'm a sinful man". "No, you'll be a fisher of men". And he followed him. Then there's this story. "At that statement, his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions". Think of Pascal again, body, mind, heart. This kid, who's got the goods of the body, but he's being drawn upward. He is. That's why he's seeking eternal life from Jesus. That's why he's been following the commandments. He's being drawn upward. But at the decisive moment, he's like the Israelites having escaped from Egypt, but then they begin to long for the flesh pots of Egypt.

"Oh, how we had leeks and we had soup and we had meat back in Egypt". They start longing for the old life. And so, at the decisive moment, he's being summoned by Christ himself to the heights, is he feels himself drawn back to this place of safety and comfort. Listen to Jesus now. "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! ... Children how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God"!

Now this is not like a blanket condemnation of wealthy people. Don't read it that way. But it's an honest assessment of the dynamics of the spiritual physics. It's hard breaking free of the allurement of the body to move to the next level of the mind. It's hard to break free from that level to get to the level of the heart, which is total surrender to God. That's wisdom. Compared to that, all the goods of the world are like sand, said Solomon, correctly. Ah, but watch something, watch something, read the first book of Kings.

Solomon, even the wisest of Israel's kings, falls back into the goods of the body and the goods of the world. Okay. That's where most of us are, everybody. We sinners. We come up to Jesus. We want eternal life. That's why you're listening to this sermon. I know that. That's why I'm preaching it. I mean, we want eternal life. We know the basics. We know the commandments have got to be followed. But then every single one of us right now, everyone listening to me right now, you're hearing that voice of Jesus. "Leave behind these goods of the world. Come, follow me, and you'll have treasure in heaven". Okay. What will it be? God bless you.
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