Wealth and its pursuit

Al Cariño
28th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Reproduced with Permission

A story is told that after the death of John Rockefeller, then one of the world's richest men, a reporter asked one of his aides, "How much did he leave behind when he died?" The reporter expected that he be given an answer in dollar terms. But the aide calmly replied, "Everything." As we shall see, the only things we can bring with us to the next life are the ones we have given away.

In the gospel reading (Mk. 10:17-30), we see a rich, young man approach Jesus, kneel before Him and say, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus gave him the standard answer: observe the commandments. His response that he had been doing this since his youth indicated and that he was not satisfied with it, that he was looking for something more, that he might even be ready to make some difficult choices. So Jesus told him, "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."

For this prospective disciple, the cost of discipleship was heavy - renounce the security and prestige that his wealth brought him. Worse, he was not to give the money to his family or friends but to the poor. In exchange, he was asked to place his new security in a vague "treasure of heaven." After hearing this, we see Mark write one of the saddest lines in the Gospels, "At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions." This is the only instance in the gospels where the call of Jesus to follow Him was refused!

When the rich, young man left, Jesus said to His disciples, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 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." This surprised the disciples since in the Old Testament wealth was considered a sign of God's favor. Jesus was now teaching them that their security - salvation - depends solely on the power of God, that it is offered as pure gift.

Jesus does not frown on wealth as such. He frowns on how it could affect our salvation. And in our own experience, we see many instances of what the pursuit of wealth and one's attitude towards it can do to a person. Such a person works for practically 24 hours a day with only one thing in mind: to make more money. If he has to step on other people's toes in the process, so be it. Some even steal and kill just to have more and more money. A good example are the drug traffickers who are peddlers of death - they make money on our youth's health, future and life.

Moreover, the pursuit of wealth makes people hard and selfish. Because their only concern is themselves, they become unmindful of those with less in life. In fact, they look down on them. They say that the poor are such because they are lazy or they just don't have "it". They even mock them and everyone else with their opulent houses, expensive cars, the latest fashion in clothes and jewelry. etc. Their wealth is their way of showing that they are ahead of everyone else.

Finally, wealth makes people spiritually blind. Depending for their needs entirely on themselves, they do not see any need for God specially as Provider. How right was one author who wrote, "The more one possesses, the more he is possessed!" Thus in making wealth and its pursuit their god, they imperil their own salvation by neglecting to amass "treasures in heaven" for themselves.

We may say that not everything that have been said in the preceding apply to us. We may even compare ourselves with the apostles who only had their boats and fish nets as their possessions, that is, we do not have much in terms of material things. But this can lead us to a trap. Precisely because we have so little, we may never like to part with what we have for whatever reason. In this regard, we can draw some lessons from the experience of the Jews after their liberation from Egypt. While wandering in the desert, they often complained to Moses saying, "If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt. There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death."

For the Jews, their attachment to the "pots of meat" of Egypt had always been the source of temptation to turn their back on the Promised Land. Though they had left Egypt, they still kept some "little Egypts" in their heart. If we look into ourselves, it will not be difficult to also discover some "little Egypts" within us - our attachments to things, material or otherwise, no matter how small.

"What must I do to inherit eternal life?" May our answer be similar to that of Peter: "We have given up everything and followed you," namely, we are to amass "treasures in heaven" rather than be distracted with the pursuit of as well as attachment to other things.