The first readings at Mass this week are from the Book of Judges with one reading from the Book of Ruth, set in the time of the judges. There is a recurring, tedious, pattern in the Book of Judges: the people do what is displeasing in the sight of the Lord, the Lord is angry with them, they are reduced to dire distress, the Lord relents from what he has planned to do against them and raises up a judge to lead them. But once the judge is dead the people lapse again and the pattern continues as before. Over and over, with protestations of repentance when things get difficult.
It is a common experience, this tedious recurring pattern in relationships, perhaps in relation to drink or other addictions, perhaps in arguing and quarreling over the same old things. How are such patterns to be broken? What will get us moving again? What will kick start us into new life? We hope that God's providence will find some gentle way of doing this, helping us to move forward.
The rich young man in today's gospel wants eternal life. What about life first of all, Jesus says to him, how are you doing with living life? What about the commandments? I have been observing those all my life, says the young man. Then if you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me.
Here is the possibility of a kick start, a new vocation, a new venture. But the young man goes away sad because he is a man of great wealth. There are other things that hold us back from the venture, besides the addictions and attachments mentioned earlier. There is wealth and other forms of comfort and power. There is the effort required and the willpower just does not seem to be available.
'Do you want to be healed', Jesus asked the man who was ill for thirty eight years. Perhaps the answer will be 'no'. Perhaps the illness and struggle we know are better than the new possibilities of grace we do not know. Perhaps we only flirt with the idea of a new start, a fresh beginning, while in reality being content (and sad) with what we have managed to accumulate and with the limitations to which we have become accustomed.
Pope Francis says that God never tires of showing mercy. We see from the Book of Judges that God never tires of rescuing his people. It sustains our hope that one day we will respond courageously to God's saving help and live from a new depth of union with Him.