A man comes to Jesus in today’s Gospel and, in effect, he wants to purchase heaven. He’s also looking for a sale. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In other words, “What does heaven cost me?” He’s a rich man and the wealthy are able to procure much of what they need:
“Just tell me the price and if it seems worth it I’ll peal off a few bills and get it for myself. After all, if I need new windows, I buy them. If the car needs service, I pay the guy. So, what does heaven cost?”
Well, says Jesus, Keep the commandments.
“Not a problem,” the wealthy man says, “I’ve been well raised and am a decent chap. I’ve got the necessary resources to cover this bill.” Any other surcharges, taxes or shipping?”
“Well actually there are other charges,” Jesus says looking at him with love, “Because, truth be told, eternal life will cost you everything you have. But fear not, you will have treasure in heaven!” And the man went away sad for his possessions were many.
So what do we learn?
- Who owns who?Very often we like to think of the many possessions we have. But the usual problem is that we don’t have them at all, they have us. Our possessions possess us, enslave us, preoccupy us, limit our freedom, and tie us firmly to earth. Because of them we are compromised, worldly, and find spiritual demands downright unreasonable. The man in today’s gospel was rich but he was not free. In fact it was his riches that enslaved him. He simply had too much to lose. And isn’t that our problem too? Discipleship seems unreasonable when we are tied up with the world. We simply have too much to lose. For this reason the Lord declares, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
- Who are the Rich? Ah, but be careful here. Because I can hear the gears turning in our wily minds: “Ah yes, the nasty rich people. They ARE going to have a hard time getting to heaven aren’t they!” Most of us define the rich as “other people.” The rich man is any one who earns a dollar more an hour than me. He’s in trouble. Well I got news for us. We live in America. We’re all rich! Even the poor among us live like royalty compared to poor in other lands. We have met the rich man and he is us! It is interesting that the apostles in today’s Gospel see themselves in the category “rich.” But wait a minute! Haven’t they left everything to follow Jesus? Yes they have. But they understand that what Jesus is really getting at is not what is in our wallets, but rather, what is in our hearts. And the truth is we all what to be rich, very rich. And don’t tell me this isn’t you because I am going to think you’re lying to me. We want to be comfortable, rich and care-free. It is just a fact. Thus the apostles rightly cry out in truth, “Then who can be saved?!” Even the poor who seem exempt from Jesus’ diagnosis want to be rich. The lines are long for lottery tickets even in the poorest neighborhoods.
- Warnings don’t seem to help. So deep is this desire for wealth that even when we are sternly warned by God how dangerous riches are to our salvation we STILL want them with a passion! Consider a few texts that warn us: But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. (1 Tim 6:9-10) You still want to be rich anyway don’t you? I know, so do I. Try this one: No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money! (Luke 16:13) You still want to try don’t you? You still want to be rich! I know, so do I. OK try this one: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. (Luke 6:24-25) I know, I know, you still want to be rich anyway. So do I. Here’s another, But many that are first will be last, and the last first! (Mat 19:30). Did that one do it for you? Are you convinced to give up your desire to be rich? Hmm… not me either. And finally here is a last warning: How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” …It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mk 10:23-25) OK we hear all this but most of us still want to be rich. Face it, we have a serious problem, a deep wound, and intractable problem. Sounds like we need a savior! And praise the Lord there is a Doctor in the house!
- For man it is impossible, but for God all things are possible. – Truth be told only God can purify our desire and help us to willingly renounce everything, to become free of our insatiable desire for wealth. I have seen God get people to the point where they were willing to sell everything. I’ll be honest it was usually near their death. I have sat at the side of many a deathbed and heard those magical words, “I just want to go home now and be with God.” Mirabile dictu! (A woundrous thing to say!) I heard my father say it. I heard my grandmother say it. I’ve heard parishioners say it: “You may have all this world, just give me Jesus!” Do you see the miracle? It’s a painful path to get there to be sure, but God draws us to him in stages. Little by little we give back, sell off if you will, all our riches. What have you given back so far? As for me, I’ve given back my grandparents, my parents, my sister, and other relatives. I’ve given back most of my hair 🙂 . I’ve given back my youthful figure and vigor. As I get older I’ll give back even more. Nothing belongs to me and in the end God will require it all back. And one day I pray that on my deathbed you’ll hear me say, “I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold. My only treasure now is in heaven. All I want is Jesus. ” For Charles it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.
- Thank you Lord.
Here’s one of my favorite songs. Take note of the following verses: God and God alone created all these things we call our own. From the mighty to the small the glory in them all is God’s and God’s alone….God and God alone will be the joy of our eternal home. He will be our one desire, our hearts will never tire, of God and God alone!
4 Replies to “Meditations on Wealth”
When we think of “wealth” what immediately comes to mind is money and material possessions. We can be rich in other ways, too – and equally as reluctant to let loose of those riches or to take them for granted.
One rich that we take for granted is good health. I participate on a bulletin board for Human Resources professionals. Recently there was a thread about who would be getting a flu shot and why/why not. Of those who stated they were NOT getting a flu shot (seasonal or H1N1) nearly all stated either “I’ve never gotten the flu” or “I’m healthy, I’ll survive the flu if I get it.” As someone who works in the healthcare industry, and as the daughter of a vaccine researcher, I find this attitude extremely selfish. Why? One may not be in a risk group, but one may come in contact with those who are. Given that one can be infectious several days before flu symptoms appear and after one feels better, one could wreak havoc on those less able to fend off the infection. And one may not be aware of who is in a risk group – it’s not obvious who has an immune disease, or on immuno-suppressant drugs, or has another underlying health condition. Getting immunized protects not just oneself, but one’s community. I find it enraging that some blow the flu off as “not my problem.” One person’s selfishness could cause another’s death.
Another rich is the social support of friends and family. I currently am struggling with some resentment in this area, not because of my own lack, but because of my mother’s. She has never, to my knowledge, put much effort into developing and maintaining friendships, particularly after she retired. There is nothing wrong with being content with one’s own company, but having a support network can be invaluable. As it is, my mother now is seriously ill, and has no one other than my sister and me. I am trying REALLY hard not to resent that she is taking time away from my husband, and my daughter, and my job. I am praying for patience and compassion.
Yes indeed we do hold on to this world and its way with a very tight grip. We are also very invested in the familiar.
Perhaps this will bring a chuckle to the situation – your husband can now refer to your mom as his “mother – outlawed!” Keep the sense of humor when possible – I firmly believe it lessens the stress. And, remember to learn as much as you can from your mom’s faults – you too will grow old. Hang in there.
H.L. Mencken once defined wealth as “an income $100 greater than that of one’s wife’s sister’s husband.”
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