Matthew 19:16 – 26
This is what the Holy Gospel tells us to do.
Christ does not condemn wealth and He does not bless the wealthy. Of them He says, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” (Luke 6:24) This is why the rich man has no place in the kingdom of heaven. He is tied to his wealth and does not want to burden himself with thoughts of salvation, renunciation and justice. He has no interest in others getting a part of his wealth, which he has taken from them. This is why it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:23)
To illustrate just how difficult this is, Christ compares it to the agony of a camel trying to pass through the Gates of Jerusalem, called the “Eye of the Needle.” He said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24) One should not, however overlook he fact that Christ never said that it was impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Wealth can be a means of salvation for the wealthy. There is only one way: to give it away and to become free of it. The Christian calendar is full of the names of saints who had the courage to do this.
This also does not mean that anyone who is poor is automatically called to cut through the line and enter the kingdom of heaven. Christianity does not advertise poverty. We pray every day for the abundance of the fruits of the earth and temperate seasons, in order that we may enjoy the fruits of the earth. For example, at Transfiguration during the blessing of grapes, we ask God to let the vineyards of His faithful servants be fruitful and to bless their homes with bountiful foods. Why? In order that, having enough of everything, we may be bountiful in good deeds. Through the prayers of holy matrimony we wish the newlyweds that their homes be filled with an abundance of all good things, wine, oil and wheat, and that by being bountiful they may give to others as well. I think that this is the heart of the issue.
In reflecting on wealth and gaining wealth, we are faced with several questions. First, how and through what means is wealth gained. Another, just as important question is, what does wealth mean for the wealthy? We can say and think of ourselves as someone who acquires health in an honest manner, working hard and sweating day and night. But if, in the process of acquiring health we forget who we are, if we neglect our families and our children, then this is an example of work that is by no means honest. Is wealth more important and more valuable than a human being or a family? And here we are not even talking about the truly dishonest and illegal ways of making money.
The answer to the second question is this, brothers and sisters. It is a sin when wealth takes over our soul and fills our heart. It then darkens our sight and it takes its master prisoner. The tables are then quickly turned and instead of the master ruling over his wealth, the wealth rules its master. And wealth is a cruel master. Did not Christ say, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) Our heart ought to belong to certain people and through them, to God. It ought to be filled with love for our neighbor and for God. It should never become obsessed with greed for the sparkle of gold and the rustling of paper bills.
It is crucial to understand and accept that in this life we are travelers, mere passers-by on the tedious journey from temporality to eternity. Nothing in this earthly life belongs to us. “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” (Psalm 24:1) God gives enough to everyone, to us in Canada and America, to those in Sweden and Germany, but also to those in Africa and Asia and certain parts of Europe too. God has created us all equal and we are all His children. But by forcefully taking from others and hoarding it into our own warehouses we are robbing those who have equal right to it.
God made us with a purpose and for a purpose. No matter how rich we are, we cannot wear more than one pair of shoes at a time. We cannot put on more than one suit at a time. If our self discipline weakens, we can perhaps eat two or three lunches, but then we will end up with a stomachache. Or we may drink two bottles of wine but then we will surely become drunk and have a terrible headache as a result. And as much as we are able to eat and drink, we always regret not being able to eat and drink more. Why, then, should we covet things that we do not even need when our neighbor us hungry and needy? There are many people who are not even able to enjoy what they have without taking from others. It is a sick satisfaction indeed – to acquire something in order for others to be deprived of it.
We are born naked into this world from our mothers’ wombs and naked we will leave this world. “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” (1 Timothy 6:7) The truth of this should make us sober up. All of our possessions are borrowed from God, nothing is or can be ours. If we have too much, this is because we have taken it from others. We see the burials of both the rich and the poor and we can see that in the end our fates are the same. This truth shocks us, and we return to our homes and to our everyday life and we continue living as though death is not our business and as though it will never knock on our door. But it will. “You are earth and to the earth you will return,” are the words we hear in our minds for a while. We hear these words but we refuse to accept their reality. The drama of death and dying and the rituals of burial have been repeated since the dawn of humanity and yet human behavior is still unreasonable, people are carried away and led by unnatural instincts. On TV we see touching images of hungry, deformed children, thousands upon thousands of maimed and dying men and women, we watch this every day yet our conscience is asleep. We behave as though this has nothing to do with us.
He who gives to the poor lends to God Himself, say the Serbs. And the wise Solomon says, “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.” (Proverbs 19:17) We Christians must go even further and understand that he who gives to the poor gives back to the Lord. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) It is God’s will that all of His children be brothers and sisters among themselves.
We should understand that the criterion for acquiring the kingdom of heaven is our relationship with all men (Matthew 26:21-46) If we do not do something good for the least among our brethren, we are doing nothing for God either. If we have no love, then we are like a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1) We are nothing if we have no love, even if our faith were so strong it could move mountains. (1 Corinthians 13:2)
The Proverbs of Solomon are a wonderful guide to some aspects of our take on wealth and money. Undoubtedly, Solomon is called to speak on this subject. If the vast majority of us learn about the temptations of wealth from the example of others, Solomon was wealthier than any man of his time. He knew all about wealth and speaks to us from his own experience. The fact that his wealth and riches is relevant to us today proves that little has changed in the world since the times of Solomon. This should make us feel uneasy.
“There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.” (Proverbs 11:24-25) And in another place in the Bible he says, “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10) When we read this and other thoughts of the wise Solomon, we feel as though we have known them forever, and that we discussed them with a friend or neighbor just the other day. “When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes? The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep. There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt. But those riches perish by evil travail: and he begetteth a son, and there is nothing in his hand. As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand. And this also is a sore evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that hath labored for the wind? All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness. Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion. Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:11-19)
We must build on Solomon’s mindset and his utilitarian Old-testament way of thinking, but we should move on from there and take a step in Christ’s direction. This specifically means that we must accept all-encompassing love as the only measure and criterion. If we do so the abyss that separates fellow men from each other will become smaller and conflicts between us will become fewer. We will live as brothers of one Father, our Creator