Most of us don't like to hear Sunday's second reading (Heb 4:12-13). Though we verify its insights whenever we give ourselves over to God, we often wish something different would happen to those who try to be God's disciples.

"God's word," the author of Hebrews proclaims, "is living and effective sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from Him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must render an account."

Our lives' most crucial periods both spring from and revolve around hearing God's word -- both sides of God's word. Nothing is more fulfilling or more painful, as we see in the other two readings.

Completion

The author of Wisdom, involved in a quest to discover God's word in everyday life, reflects on the fulfillment side of the two-edged sword. "I pleaded," he writes, "and the spirit of Wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her....I chose to have her rather than the light....Yet all good things came to me in her company and countless riches at her hands."

The writer can't image life without Yahweh's word. It gives meaning, brings completeness and wipes out evil. But -- "on the other hand" -- there's also the painful side of God's word. Mark zeroes in on this dimension in the Gospel (Mk 10:17-30).

"You are lacking in one thing," Jesus tells the rich young man. "Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor....Then come, follow me." These words cut so deeply into the good man's heart that "his face fell and he went away sad, for he had many possessions."

This teaching about riches runs so counter to culture and popular belief that Jesus is forced to stress its degree of difficulty. "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God," He tells His disciples.

When Mark's Jesus speaks about entering the kingdom of God, He's usually not referring to "getting into heaven." Almost always, the Gospel concept of the "kingdom of God" alludes to God working with power in our everyday life.

That means when Jesus proclaims, "The kingdom of God is close at hand," He's actually reminding His hearers that God is present here and now working among them, so close they can put out their hands and touch God's presence.

Here the Master is saying that wealth, instead of being a satisfying goal of life, can actually be the obstacle which stops us from stepping into that level of life which God most intends us to experience, the point at which we begin to sense God's presence and power in everything we do and perceive.

Camel

Jesus is so insistent on this point that He uses an ancient Jewish equivalent of our "snowball in hell" idiom to show there's no other way to achieve this longed-for state of existence. "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle," He tells His disciples, "than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

Jesus' followers immediately grasp both the implications and the impossibility of carrying out His teaching. The demand to know, "Then who can be saved?" No one can carry out such a difficult word.

God's harsh word is instantly followed by God's consoling word. "For human beings it is impossible," Jesus acknowledges, "but not for God. All things are possible for God." In other words, God will give the wealthy a strength that no human being naturally has: the strength to renounce wealth in order to discover God's kingdom around them.

Of course, we can expect to receive some terrific benefits when we finally achieve the freedom which comes from such a surrender. Jesus dutifully reminds His followers about them. But even better than that, such a total submission to God's word cuts away all the veneer which envelops our lives.

The only problem is that it does so with a blade that never stops cutting. (10-09-97)