As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”
The lesson in today’s gospel reading is how hard it is for the rich of this world, who are attached to their riches, to enter eternal life. However, although it is hard it not impossible, God can give the grace to overcome this worldly attraction.
By coming to Jesus with his problem this man has done all Christians a good turn. His problem is also the problem of many of us. We can learn from Jesus’ answer that over or inordinate attachment to worldly goods is one of the biggest obstacles to entering heaven. The man in this gospel reading was a good man. He kept all the commandments from his youth upward and he had an interest in eternal life.
Reading this man’s heart like an open book, Jesus saw that not only was he fit for eternal life but that he was one who could have a very high place in heaven if he would leave everything and become a close follower of his. When having learned the price to pay for this privilege, he could not accept Jesus’ offer because he had great possessions and was too attached to them. He went away sorrowfully.
As with all cases that had come before Jesus, he always took the opportunity to teach his disciples. In this case, Jesus later said to his disciples: “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God” holds for all time and for all followers of Christ.
Jesus’ statement does not mean that a follower may not possess any of this world’s goods. The fact is he may possess and use those goods, but what he must not do is to allow them to take such a hold on him that he has no time for acquiring everlasting goods.
Jesus’ statement also reminds us that it is utterly insane and foolish to have spent a life time c0llecting and hoarding something from which we shall soon be parted forever. The rich man’s bank book and his gilt-edged shares will be not only valueless in the afterlife but they, if acquired unjustly, will be witnesses for the prosecution at the judgment on which one’s eternal future depends.
While most of us are not guilty of such excessive greed for wealth, we all do need to examine our consciences as to how we acquire and use the limited wealth we have. No matter how limit is our wealth, we are not excused from bringing a little gift to our neighbours who are in hospital, or from supplying even part of a meal for the dependents of the injured workman or an aged neighbour.
Remember that Jesus praised the widow who put a mite into the collection box for the poor in the temple area, and he also said that a cup of cold water given in his name would not go without reward. We need not be rich in order to be charitable but it is often our own exaggerated sense of our poverty can make us hard-hearted and mean toward our fellowmen and women who look to us for help.
In summary, our riches are not the problem as such, but our attitude towards them. It is as if we are possessed by our own possessions, and not in charge of them. Wealth and material things can subtly control us. Do material things or worldly considerations get in the way of our relations with God and with others? Am I missing out on the real treasures in life—health, faith, friendship, love…? Amen.