“How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter into the Kingdom of God.”
Let me add a little something to Msgr. Pope’s Meditations on Wealth. I had a conversation with someone I consider materially wealthy. And she said literally – I hate this Gospel passage. I think I know why. Because, like the rich man, she has many possessions. And like the rich man, she is a person who tries to obey the law. So, what is wrong?
Brothers and sisters, one of the main effects of Jesus’ preaching was to reorder our priorities and redirect our desires. In the Jewish culture of the time, material wealth was seen as direct reflection of God’s favor. Throughout the Old Testament, God seemed to reward the faithful with material goods. In the Book of Job, God “blessed the work of his hands and his livestock spread throughout the land.” In the Book of Psalms, we read, “What your hands provide you will enjoy; you will be happy and prosper.” The prophet Isaiah says, “Happy the just, for it will be well with them, the fruits of their works, they will eat.”
In other words, Jewish society equated the acquisition of material wealth with the promise of redemption. And Christ said no. That is why the disciples were so amazed because Christ was telling them that the acquisition of material wealth might in fact hinder one’s ability to enter into the Kingdom of God.
Now, brothers and sisters, this is where I have heard some homilies and reflections on this Gospel go wrong. This is the part where I have been told that material things are bad. This is the part where I have been made to feel guilty because I drive a car now rather than riding a bus like when I was in college. I submit to you however, that the desire you have for fulfillment is something God built into you and I think that desire is good. I think God made desire a part of human emotion on purpose. I think that each and every day, we seek fulfillment in one form or another. But, I also think that material fulfillment is sometimes good, sometimes bad but always temporary. Let me tell you and example of that kind of fulfillment.
My mother and I are pretty huge Redskins fans. In fact, my mother, my wife and a good number of my uncles and cousins have a veritable family reunion each Sunday the Redskins are at home. Whether the team is good or bad, we are there.
Well, three years ago, we were playing that awful team from Texas. Late in the game, the score was tied and that awful team from Texas was about to kick a field goal and win the game. They kicked the ball, it was blocked, and the Redskins recovered the ball and started running the other way. Then, right when we thought the game was going into overtime, the referee called a penalty on that awful team from Texas and within 30 seconds, the Redskins were in position to kick a field goal. We kicked it and won the game. The stadium erupted. We cheered as we left our seats. We cheered as we got to the parking lot and we even cheered getting into the car. And, here I was in my thirties but I felt ten years old again and I said to my mom, “Mom, I wish this night would never end!”
Well, it did and so did that feeling of euphoria that went with it. And this is an example of how temporal wealth and temporal fulfillment is temporary. And that is OK, as long as I know it. The rich man in this gospel did not. He was seeking fulfillment. That is why he came to Christ in the first place. Redskin tickets or any other earthly possession certainly will not provide me with satisfaction every Sunday. But Christ will! In fact, if my family and I failed to go to Mass on Saturday or first thing Sunday morning, I am quite certain that Jesus would say to us, “Go sell what you have and follow me.” The danger of material wealth does not lie in the possessions themselves. Rather, it lies in the fact that material wealth, temporal power and earthly merit all tend to generate false security. Wealth tends to make us think that we have somehow earned these things on our own without God’s providence. Temporal power tempts us to ignore God and not rely on his goodness. Earthly merit tends to make us forget the true source of our sustainable joy in Christ. That is why Jesus rejects wealth, power and merit as a claim to his Kingdom.
Look carefully at the scripture; the Evangelist Mark tell us that Jesus, looking at the rich man, loved him – loved him and said to him, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.” Treasure in heaven is the same thing as everlasting fulfillment. Jesus did not reject the man because of his wealth no more than he would have accepted him because of his wealth. Jesus indentified one thing that was hindering his relationship with God; God built in us a desire for fulfillment and perhaps the rich man was literally looking for love in all the wrong places. That is why some people I consider rich don’t seem to have enough.
For me, if you have a million dollars, I wonder ‘why are you out there trying to make more?’ A million dollars would seem to be enough for me. But, for those whose eyes are not on Christ, for those who are seeking fulfillment from wealth rather than from Christ, a million dollars is not enough. For those type of people, 10 million dollars would not be enough. I think that this is at the heart of some addictions; the ultimate seeking of eternal fulfillment in temporary things. And in our attempt to make that fulfillment eternal, it ends up being damaging.
Again, it may not be money or possessions. There are plenty of materially wealthy people whose wealth is not a hindrance to their salvation. I suspect that those people are well grounded in the satisfaction of a growing relationship with God. In fact, I suspect that for most of us, it is not money or possessions. The football example I gave had very little to do with the material possession of Redskins season tickets. But, if my investment of emotion is in the time spent with my family, then the possibility of sustained fulfillment increases. It is still temporary but, it makes God smile too.
Nonetheless, the everlasting fulfillment, the kind of fulfillment that made me say to my mother, “I wish this night could last forever” can only be found Christ.
Brothers and sisters, it is indeed difficult for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of heaven, especially if the rich man thinks he has already gained entry. We have not. But, for those of us who have chosen to faithfully follow Christ, and to shed not all material things, just those material things that are in our way, Jesus promised, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age.” This is so cool because, Jesus is not really saying that you have to wait for fulfillment. We have to wait for eternal everlasting fulfillment but, genuine fulfillment, though temporary, is possible now. And by following Christ, even when he tells us to do something difficult, fulfillment can increase every day until one day, it becomes eternal.