Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Importance of Allowing ‘Dr. Jesus’ to Finish the ‘Operation’

(Twenty-eighth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on October 11, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Hebrews 4: 12-13; Mark 10: 17-30.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-eighth Sunday 2015]

Doctors call it “accidental awareness during general anesthesia” (AAGA for short).  It’s the experience—the very unpleasant experience—of waking up during an operation.  In AAGA episodes patients are put under general anesthesia and the surgeries are started—but before the procedures are completed the patients become conscious again.  They become aware of what’s going on around them and of what’s being done to them.

Thankfully, this phenomenon only happens once in every 19,000 surgeries.

But here’s a warning: If at some point in the future you happen to be that 1 person in 19,000, do not—I repeat, do not—try to get up and leave the operating room immediately after you wake up!  Now you might be tempted to try to do that in the midst of the anxiety of the moment (“Get me out of here!”), but with the procedure only partly finished you’d be in no condition to go on with your life and function normally.

In fact, you’d probably die in the attempt.

“But Fr. Ray, that could never happen!  No one could get up in the middle of a major operation and leave the operating room—even if they wanted to!”

True.  Physically speaking it would never happen and could never happen.  But I mention it today because, spiritually speaking, it happens all the time!  In the spiritual order, many people do in fact leave the physician—the divine Physician—after he’s begun the “surgery” that will cure them, but before he finishes the operation.

Case in point: the rich young man in today’s gospel story.

But first a word about our second reading from Hebrews 4.  There the sacred author compares the word of God to a “two-edged sword”—a cutting instrument like a surgeon’s scalpel—that separates one body part from another (“joints and marrow”), and which, in the process, reveals physical diseases and conditions that need to be dealt with and, hopefully, cured.

His point is that when we hear God’s word proclaimed in Scripture or in a homily or in some other fashion, it will “cut us” at times—if we’re really listening!  In other words, it will reveal to us the attitudes and the sins that we need to deal with in order to become the people the Lord wants us to be and knows that we can be.

And that’s good!  Even though it hurts, it’s good.  When a surgeon cuts you open to repair your heart or remove a cancerous tumor you can be absolutely sure of one thing: it’s gonna hurt (at least after the anesthesia wears off!).  But that’s the first step—the necessary first step—in the process of getting better.

Which brings us, finally, to the rich young man in this gospel.  Jesus, the divine Physician, “cuts” him with his word by challenging him to come to terms with—and to let go of—his materialism and his selfishness.  And notice that it’s done in love!  When God convicts us of a certain sin it doesn’t “feel” like a very loving act, but it is!  And so it was for this young man.  He certainly wasn’t feeling a lot of love after Jesus 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.”

Jesus, of course, didn’t have to say that to him.  He could have just given the young man credit for keeping the Ten Commandments so well in his youth, patted him on the back, and allowed him to go on his merry way.

But Jesus loved the boy too much to do that!  As the text says, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.”  Our Lord loved the rich young man just as he was—but too much to let him stay that way.  And so Jesus used the “scalpel of his word” to make a very deep incision into the young man’s soul, by telling him that he needed to sell his stuff, give to the poor and then become a full-time disciple.

Our Lord knew that that was the only way for him to be healed of the materialism and selfishness that were destroying him from the inside out, like a cancerous tumor.

You might say that at that decisive moment the rich young man was on the “spiritual operating table”—fully conscious—as Jesus the divine Physician made his incision.

Then he got up and left.

The cut was made, his spiritual sickness was clearly revealed—but before he could be cured, he left.  He left right in the middle of the “surgery”.

And the Bible says he went away sad—which will probably come as a big surprise to every materialistic person who reads or hears this story, because for the rich young man nothing had changed!  Ostensibly, everything in his life was exactly the same.  He still had all his money (Jesus hadn’t asked him for a donation for his ministry); he still had all his “stuff”; he still had everything that he thought would make him happy in his life.

But he wasn’t happy.

I think this rich young man sensed that, in making the decision he made, he would be missing out on something—something really big and really important.  Now the interesting question is: What exactly was that big and important thing that he would be missing out on (besides the opportunity to get rid of his sins of materialism and selfishness)?

Well, notice the instruction that Jesus gives him at the very end of their encounter.  Our Lord says to him, “Come, follow me.”

That, you will recall, was the same thing that he had said to the Twelve when he called them to be his Apostles.  Which leads me to wonder: Was this man destined to be Judas’ replacement?  Was that ultimately God’s will for him?  Remember, after Judas hanged himself someone had to be chosen to replace him.  An “office”—an apostolic office—needed to be filled, and a man named Matthias was eventually chosen to fill it.  Well, perhaps this young man would have been the one picked had he been around, since he had been originally called to follow our Lord in the very same way that Peter and John and the other Apostles had been called.

We don’t know for sure whether or not that would have happened, but it could have—if he hadn’t walked away.

The lesson of all this, then, is very simple: When Dr. Jesus “cuts” you with his word, stay on the operating table—so that a healing can occur in your soul!  Learn from the mistake the rich young man made.  When the word reminds you of your materialism or your selfishness or of some other sin that you need to repent of and confess AND WHICH YOU’D MUCH RATHER IGNORE, don’t ignore it!  Repent in your heart, and then take it to confession—where Dr. Jesus can finish the surgery, and make you well.