By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Gospel
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The Monkey Trap

Wisdom 7:7-11 Hebrews 4:12-13 Mark 10:17-30

African hunters have a clever way of trapping monkeys. They slice a coconut in two, hollow it out, and in one half of the shell cut a hole just big enough for a monkey's hand to pass through. Then they place an orange in the other coconut half before fastening together the two halves of the coconut shell. Finally, they secure the coconut to a tree with a rope, retreat into the bush, and wait. Sooner or later, an unsuspecting monkey swings by, smells the delicious orange, and discovers its location inside the coconut. The monkey then slips its hand through the small hole, grasps the orange, and tries to pull it through the hole. Of course, the orange won't come out; it's too big for the hole. To no avail the persistent monkey continues to pull and pull, never realizing the danger it is in. While the monkey struggles with the orange, the hunters approach and capture the monkey by throwing a net over it. As long as the monkey keeps its fist wrapped around the orange, the monkey is trapped. The only way the monkey could save its life is to let go of the orange and flee.

This hunting system works because it hardly occurs to the monkey that it cannot have both the orange and its freedom. Even when the monkey sees the hunters coming to capture it, it does not let go of the orange and run away but makes more frantic effort to take the orange with it. The system works because the monkey is entrapped by its own greed. I can imagine the monkey saying its last prayers as it sees the hunters coming. The moneky prayer would go something like this: "Save me, O God; please save me. Only do not ask me to let go of the orange." This may sound funny, but fact is, many of us have learnt to say the monkey prayer. A good example is the rich young man in today's gospel whose prayer probably was: "Give me eternal life, O Lord; only do not ask me to give up my wealth."

If you are a lover of animals and you see the monkey struggling to get the orange while the hunters are closing up on it, what would you do? You would probably shout to the monkey to abandon the stupid orange and run for dear life. This is exactly what Jesus does to the rich young man. He sees the man in danger of losing his bid on eternal life on account of his attachment to wealth. So he calls on him to give up his wealth and save his life. Why did Jesus have to do this? Mark tells us that it is because "Jesus looked at him and loved him" (Mark 10:21a). The teachings and directives of Jesus often seem hard and incomprehensible but in the end they are meant for our own good. It will change the way we receive the teachings of Jesus when we realise that, hard as they may be, they are the words of someone who loves us and who knows better than we probably do at the moment what is ultimately in our interest to have or to avoid.

The rich young man is like the monkey insisting on the orange when its very life is in danger. So Jesus points out to him the only way of escape: "You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Mark 10:21b). Why does the young man find this teaching a hard pill to swallow? We know that this man has been a religious, observant Jew since his youth. Religious Jews believed that wealth was a sign of God's blessing. Rich people were regarded as those God had blessed and poor people were regarded as those God had cursed. That is why when Jesus told his disciples how hard it would be for rich people to enter the kingdom of God, "they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, 'Then who can be saved?'" (verse 26). Here we see the beginnings of what we know today as the "prosperity gospel," the belief that wealth is a sign of God's approval, and poverty and hardship a sign of God's disapproval.

The gospel of Jesus challenges the prosperity gospel for, as we see in today's gospel story, poverty and God's love can go hand in hand. In fact, voluntary poverty can be a way of responding to God's love. Prosperity gospel is nothing but materialism in religious garb. Materialism is the belief that without wealth life is meaningless. The rich young man was a materialist believer. Our prayer today is that God may give us more wisdom than the monkey to flee materialism in all its forms. For "what profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit one's life?" (Mark 8:36)

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