Grace to you!
Many times, the Blessed Lord's words in Scripture are shocking, sometimes provocative. He doesn't seem to say things the usual way. His unconventional approach unsettles waters. He has a way of making us pause and reflect.
If Jesus' words were shocking to the Jews and the disciples of his time, it's fascinating to see they are equally challenging to many of us today. His words are timeless, always relevant, because he is God.
Addressing his disciples after a noble rich man asked the question about what to do to inherit God's kingdom, the Lord stated one of those shocking truths. It would be wonderful if we paid attention to those words.
He said: "Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you; it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:23-24).
This is shocking, and to the apostles, it was dispiriting. They couldn't pretend all was well; hence they replied: "If this is the case, then who can be saved?" The Lord replied, "For man, it is impossible but not for God, for with God all things are possible."
Whenever this text of Scripture is read even today, many people are shocked, just like the disciples of Jesus were.
Isn't wealth, getting rich a good thing? I don't know about you, but I need money. If not for any other thing, to fund evangelization and charity for the poor, which is my ministry's mission. Wouldn't it be pleasant not to be worried about paying the bills, knowing they would be paid? Don't you need money to pay your bills? Isn't being rich going to reduce your stress level?
Didn't God ask us to work hard to earn our living and be successful? Wasn't it part of Old Testament biblical blessings that we shall be wealthy? Didn't Saint Paul promote responsibility and the dignity of labor and hard work when he told the Thessalonians that the person who doesn't work shouldn't eat?
Isn't it at the core of the Church's social teaching to encourage proper work ethic with a view to material wellbeing to enhance our spiritual growth? Isn't the free market economy, supported by many Christian churches, preferred by many to make us rich? Isn't it part of dream actualization to work towards financial stability?
Why does Jesus sound pessimistic about wealth? Does he want us to grow lazy or abhor riches if we must go to heaven? The question can go on and on.
Let me suggest a simple description of "the rich," which, I suppose, may be close to the meaning of the Word of God in this Gospel of Matthew. “The rich” is anyone who has material wealth and keeps more than he or she needs. Or it is anyone who keeps for themselves or who has in their reserve more than what is necessary.
If this working definition is accepted, we can see that Jesus' words do not apply only to those living in Beverly Hills, Silicon Valley, or Manhattan. It also applies to all of us, including those who live in inner cities, when we accumulate more than we need.
Let us return to the fundamental question of today's reflection. Why is it going to be hard or very difficult (duskolos—the original Greek word used in the text) for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom? I have a few suggestions for our meditations.
First, anything we possess that we don’t need is a distraction. Hanging on to those things could make serving God and being of service to one another more difficult. Those things are a distraction to heavenly glory.
Second, if we spend energy on what we don't need, we unwittingly fall short of doing or spending our resources on what we need. What we don't need is junk. Toss the junk and be freer. A sort of minimalism in terms of possessions is helpful here. Spiritual life thrives as much as the junk of this kind is tossed.
Third, amassing wealth that we don't need has a way of increasing our love for ourselves. Another name for it is self-centeredness, which could lead to narcissism. A narcissist hardly has space for another person, not even God; and, such a person barely could make it to heaven. Self-absorption is heaven's repulsion.
Fourth, riches, in the sense of what we don't need, are to our spiritual life what excess fat is to our body. The imbalance of excess fat could be alluded to the spiritual imbalance which could occur. Many times, what we don't need opens the door to anxiety. When we keep more than is necessary, we also spend more valuable time maintaining or protecting it. It can distract us from the divine path. In contrast, we could use that time and energy on more important things.
Fifth, the danger of hoarding is greater too. Hoarding isn't simply about a cluttered home, office, or car; it could also be about cluttered minds and foggy spirit. Constant worries about how the stock market is doing or maintaining our homes, which are beyond what we can manage, can be unnecessarily stressful. Also, the difficulty of managing our properties, securities, or our shares, etc., when they are more than we can reasonably handle, can be spiritually suffocating. Such is a hazard on heaven's path. We need fresh air coming from having less than more. Sometimes, less is better than more. Here is a suggestion: if it is too much to manage and causes you unnecessary anxiety and sleepless nights, downsize.
Sixth, attachment to wealth has a lot to do with the worldly. If our heart is so attached to wealth, the temptation of a false god of "what I have" and a false sense of identity that "I am worth my bank accounts" is high. The danger is that God is placed second. It's self-destructive, too, because it makes one think less of one's true dignity as a person. Also, a true appreciation of our neighbor's dignity and relevance wouldn't even have a chance. The Lord stated that just as it is difficult for the camel to pass through the eye of a needle, it would be for the rich to enter God's kingdom. (I will reflect on new insights into the meaning of this "eye of a needle" line of Jesus in the second reflection coming up shortly).
In the meantime, if it is that difficult, though not impossible, for the rich to enter God’s kingdom, what are we expected to do?
Here is my simple spiritual advice: Whatever we have that we don't need belongs to somebody else. For example, are there pairs of shoes or clothes in your closet you haven't used in years? Are there books or pieces of furniture, etc., in your basement or in storage that are rusting away? It's about time to gift them to someone who can use them. We will be doing ourselves a tremendous spiritual favor if we declutter.
If you haven't worn that dress in six years, how do you expect you would in the seventh?
Being rich isn’t bad. It’s actually good. But not using our wealth for needs is a spiritual barrier. We don’t need that barrier.
Let’s pray for one another, for the grace of detachment and generosity. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Tuesday Week 20, Ordinary Time: Ezekiel 28:1-10; Matthew 19:23-30]
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.