Rights and Responsibilities
Twenty Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time - B

Frank Enderle
Reproduced with Permission

Whenever a deacon, priest, bishop or even the Pope talk openly and frankly about the just distribution of wealth, a wave of protests and false accusations usually follow. Pope John Paul II mentioned to the Native Americans and poor farmers in Mexico during one of his visits that “the Church defends, yes, the legitimate right to private property, but it teaches with the same clarity that private property always brings with it a social responsibility.” Actually, this admirable thought summarizes the teachings of Christ which form the basis of the social doctrine of the Church. The Church reminds us that owning private property is not a crime nor is it contrary to the Gospel. The Church concedes that it is a legitimate need. But the Church also tells us that it is not an absolute necessity. All ownership of property should be for the common good. Wealth is not bad, per se, if we know how to share it but it can lead to sins of injustice, into a powerful force for enslaving others, if those who have the wealth do not use it for the good of all.

The rich man encountered Jesus in a casual setting when he ran up, at the last moment, and asked the question that was worrying him the most, which is also, without a doubt, the question that profoundly worries each of us: “Master, what needs to be done for me to reach eternal life?” Initially we feel moved by the sincerity and trust that this good and honorable man displays. Jesus first gives him the “textbook” answer - obey the commandments. The man says he does that already and has done so since he was very young. Then Christ looks lovingly at the man and says’ “You only have one thing left to do. Go, sell everything you have and give the proceeds to the poor. Then you will surely have gained a treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.” The man then sadly goes away because he does not want to part with his riches. What had started as a happy event turned suddenly sad. The gospel writer does not even give the man a name. Had the man’s reaction been different it would have been a turning point in his life, a joyous uplifting of a sad life. But this was not to be. He turns out to be just one more person who has failed to listen to the call of God, a potential saint, a could-have-been example of how to follow Jesus,

What the Lord tells us in the Gospel Reading is that if we truly want to follow him there is a dimension to Christianity that is oftentimes overlooked: the generosity to which Christ calls us. The Gospel message is a challenge to take part in an especially difficult vocation that cannot be followed just by obeying the commandments, although that is an important thing to do. Christianity possesses a social dimension that is oftentimes ignored when we limit ourselves simply to pious acts, when we believe simply by going to Mass on Sunday and praying a little every day we are doing all that we must do as Christians. Today we should ask ourselves truthfully: How did I gain all of my belongings and my property and how am I using them? We should remember that economic injustice can come from the origin as well as the use of money and property.

After the rich man leaves, Jesus uses what are probably some of the truest, yet harshest, words in the gospels: “How difficult it is for those who are rich to enter into the Kingdom of God.” That rich man walked away sadly from Christ’s side because he cared more about his riches. He wasn’t an evil person. He obeyed the commandments religiously. He wanted to enter into the Kingdom of God but he had become a slave of his own possessions. Our Lord wants us to be free, to learn how to share and how to give. He does not want us to be tied to material things that pass away. Today, with all sincerity, let us ask ourselves: Do I live out a spirit of generosity? Do I know how to share with others the material blessings that I have? Let’s learn to live as the first Christians did, in spirit at least. They did not consider anything as their own. Everything they owned was used for the good of the community. When we let go of the need to possess things, we will feel inner joy. Only then can we say that we are on the road to the Kingdom of God. Only then will we feel true peace in our hearts