Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Sirach 17:20-24; Mark 10:17-27)

The reading from Sirach today may serve to remind us that Lent is approaching. Its line, “Return to him and give up sin” anticipates the alternate admonition for the distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Many of us, I suspect, listen to these words with all the attention of a stone-deaf person at a piano recital; that is, they just don’t register.

The problem is not that we are bad people. As a matter of fact, we are like the man in the gospel who can say to Jesus that he has kept all the commandments since his youth. We do not understand nor do we care to understand that Jesus is calling us beyond standard conventions of morality to saintliness. He means for us to stop talking about others, to stop looking with lustful eyes, to stop doing good so that others may take notice.

A very good moral theologian once compared himself to the great Reinhold Niebuhr. He said that Niebuhr was a thorough perfectionist where he just wanted to be “a little bit better.” We suffer the same pathology. We don’t care to be saints but satisfy ourselves thinking that we are “a little bit better” than most of the rest. It is no wonder that Jesus concludes today’s gospel saying that salvation is impossible for humans without God’s help.