28th SUnday in Ordinary Time
Recently it was reported in the Christchurch Press that a letter written by of one of the greatest scientists, Albert Einstein, was sold for millions of dollars. The letter made headlines not so much because it contained interesting scientific discoveries or theories, but because it was a letter denying the existence of God. Einstein was raised a Jew, and atheists like to include him as being “their own” that they may claim that the greatest geniuses in the world is on their side. It justifies their position, and it also portrays people who believe in God as ‘unthinking’ or ‘unscientific’. The thing is, the letter is only a snapshot of one moment in Einstein’s life. Einstein, grappled throughout his life with the question which all scientists have to asked: “Why is there not nothing?”. There is “something” (i.e. creation) and science cannot provide the answer as to why that is. And to put it simply and crudely, creation does not make sense without a “Creator”. In another letter to a girl who asked him if scientists prayed, Einstein showed he believed in “God”, but in a god that the Pantheist came to accept (captured perhaps by the phrase: “God is everything”) rather than a God who has revealed Himself as believed by Christians, which he thought was naive. In his own words to the girl: “…everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is surely quite different from the religiosity of someone more naïve”.
Who knows the depth of Einstein’s thought would have been if he had good philosophical direction. My point is, one should not just take a snapshot of where someone was at in a certain point in life, and assume that it defined their whole being and thinking, to justify one’s own thoughts and belief (or lack of). Take St Augustine for example, who was one of the greatest minds in the history of the Church. If we look at his life, there was a time he lived a debauched life, and embraced Manicheanism, a rather strange religion. It would be wrong to take that snapshot of this life (e.g a letter he wrote at that time), to misguidedly use it to justify Manicheanism.
In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus challenged a rich young man to “go and sell everything….. give the money to the poor….. then come, follow me.’ As the passage tells us, the young men went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth. That is a snapshot where the man was at, at that point. We do not have any record whether later in life he turned around and take up the challenge. We simply do not know. Whatever decision he made the important point is that we are given a snapshot of a moment in which the rich young man missed a ‘defining moment’ of his life. The ‘road not taken’ was perhaps due to his failure to differentiate between the ‘treasures in heaven’ and the ‘treasures on earth’.
The young man’s response is typical of most youth in our time to anything that makes a demand and commitment. Their first instinct is to count the cost, asking themselves: what do I have to give up or likely to lose?. Yet, it’s the bigger picture of “what am I gaining” that is more important. Unless someone helps them to see the bigger picture of the joy, the happiness and fulfillment that will come from their undertaking, they are unlikely to embrace the challenge.
It is the same with the demand that God might make on us. We must not look at what we are giving up to meet that challenge, but the bigger picture of what we might gain. I would like to think that in time the young man found someone to guide him to make the right decision, or that God’s grace continued to move him. After all, the greatest good, the ultimate good, by definition is God, and not anything of the created world.
God bless Fr Michael