28th Sunday of Ordinary Time/ Trinity 19.
The Gospels record the vivid encounter that Jesus has with a young man who wished to deepen his religious life, by going beyond just keeping the rules. Yet when challenged, he could not detach himself from his own wealth. Jesus comments; “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of heaven, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle!” This challenged his hearers it should challenge us today even more since most of us live lives of gentle self indulgence. We are bombarded on matters of wealth and poverty intertwined with political and social rhetoric, and our Christian leaders also are all too eager to engage in simplistic pronouncements on economic and political matters which have little to do with the teaching of Christ.
It is true that Our Lord frequently reminds us of the dangers associated with possessions, “where your treasure is there your heart will be also” and “lay not up for yourselves treasure on earth where moth and rust corrupt and thieves break through and steal but layup treasure in heaven…..”. There is no doubt too that he is absolutely at one with the Old Testament’s concern for the poor. At the same time he was not hostile to wealth relying on wealthy friends who use their god given resources to support him and Jesus encourages the development of talents and good stewardship. The subject concerned St. Paul who writes to Timothy “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil leading some to stray from the faith” as too later early Church leaders like the Bishop of Hierapolis 485AD who writes to those who have already been trapped by the obsession with wealth, “people must not be mastered by their wealth but be the master of it”.
The subject of “possessions” like the theme of “marriage” (last week’s reflection), Jesus calls us to live the life of heaven here on earth, not providing simplistic solutions to social and economic matters. It is not wealth that is the problem but an attachment to wealth that blinds us to spiritual growth or takes control of our actions just as it did in the betrayal of the Lord by Judas Iscariot. The soul cannot be fed on those things that money can buy. Even worse, when we are focussed on possessions, the soul is deprived of its vitality as if underfed to the point of starvation and death. That is why for those seeking to have a life within the kingdom of God; Jesus uses the image of the impossibility of a camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle to show that his followers need to take seriously the discipline of self denial.
Self denial of course is no longer thought of as a virtue in today’s world or even by us Christians who with everyone else are inclined to believe in a good and comfortable, a secure and safe life, without any realisation of the potential danger to spiritual health that this places us in. These issues that Jesus raised not only applied to the earnest young man in the gospel passage but also needed to be reinforced within his band of disciples too. They had already made many sacrifices to be with him as Peter pointed out, but were still to learn that they too may have to take up the cross of Christ themselves.
This is without any doubt a very difficult lesson for us all to struggle in humility with for as always we must know that there, but for the grace of God, go you and I.
Fr. Geoffrey Neal