Homily for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves,
“Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said,
“For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.
All things are possible for God.”
Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong; they are weak but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me, yes Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.
Practically every Protestant child in this country knows that devout little ditty, and I am sure a great number of Catholic children as well. To teach that Jesus loves us first, that he takes the initiative in bringing us to himself, is perhaps the most important truth that will see us through the trials and failures and joys of this earthly life,. There comes a time in our lives when we begin to mature spiritually, which means to perceive as adults what tiny children must accept by necessity: that we can do nothing of ourselves. “Without me you can do nothing.” These are the words of Jesus who is truth himself.
With this universal truth in in mind, it is especially significant when the Gospels make a point of the Savior’s love for particular individuals. This does not occur that often. We are told that “Jesus loved Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus” and St. John is called “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” And then there is today’s bittersweet passage: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him…”
In the former cases, these were all friends of Jesus and were faithful to him all the way to the cross, even as others fled. But today we have the case of those who want to be friends of the Savior but struggle against their sinful inclinations. The rich young man stands for all of us, especially if we are striving to be faithful to the commandments but fail. The rich young man was sure he had observed the commandments, but in fact he lacked the love that is the first and great commandment and the second, which is like it. So he went away sad. There is nothing sadder than a man who wants to love, and is loved, but finds it hard to return love.
Yes, as the passage goes on we find out that even our Lord’s apostles, when they find out what he means by being saved, can’t believe what they hear. “Then who can be saved?”
St. Peter, though (given a bit to comparisons with others as we see elsewhere in the Gospels), takes up the case: “Behold, we have left everything to follow you.” And the Savior, always the perfect teacher, tells them of the wonderful reward they will receive for so doing, but with persecutions. By saying this he was preparing Peter for his upcoming trial at which Peter, so afraid of persecutions, denied the Savior, forgetting all that he had been promised.
We are told that Jesus looked at Peter and he went out and wept bitterly. Like the rich young man! A look of love from the Master and friend, and a fleeing in sorrow: Peter did well to make the comparison between himself and the rich young man. They were alike both in desires and in defects.
Apart from the times Our Lord’s particular love for particular persons is mentioned, there is another case that sums up his work of love in us. After his glorious resurrection by the Sea of Galilee, he stuns Peter and the others by asking him three times—once for each of his denials—“Do you love me more than these?”
“More than these!” These are strange words. Who of us would dare to say, “I love Jesus more than Jack or Mary?” And yet Jesus, who thirsts for Peter’s love, speaks like a jealous friend, spurring him on to confidence, to say yes. Remember, it was human respect that caused his denials; so Jesus makes him profess his love for him in terms that could easily annoy his fellows. He was not to be ashamed to say he loved Jesus more than the others!
In the end we find out—and this will carry us through all our moral struggles to be faithful in prayer, to be chaste, to be patient, to be temperate, and so on—that Jesus loves us first because he desires our love far more than we desire to be loved by him.
Let us reward his love for us by our gratitude and our confidence. Let us never doubt that he looks on us with love. And then we will be saved, for “All things are possible for God.”