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Wealth Isn’t Just a Number

The 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

What does it mean to be rich and wealthy? I think if most people were asked if they were rich it wouldn’t matter what their income is they would still say, “well I do alright, I’m not poor but there’s people better off than I am.” In other words we approach wealth as a matter of perspective, and it just so happens that “whatever is more than what I have” is how we tend to define rich and wealthy. I’m not saying that we are blind; we know darn well that in comparison to the third world and the entire history of mankind that we are quite wealthy. It’s just that instead of constantly looking at the poverty of the world and remembering that we have a lot, we tend to look at the Elon Musk’s of the world and lament that we have so little. But we still have to figure out what it means to be rich and wealthy because the gospel gives a very hard teaching to the rich and we should definitely listen if that happens to be us.

So where do we draw the line, how many zero’s on a paycheck do we want to go with? Unfortunately there is no line, you will never find the answer expressed as a number. There is no safety of knowing that a particular net worth classifies one as wealthy and subject to this gospel, and all we have to do is stay under it. This is not like figuring out what tax bracket you are in. Instead we have to understand the dangers of wealth and the way it causes us to walk away from Christ, and examine our lives to see if how much or even how little we own has chained our hearts.

The first problem that wealth causes in this gospel is that it prevents us from following Christ with all our heart. This man who approached Jesus knelt before him (a sign of reference and respect), recognized him as good, desired eternal life, and was living all the commands of the Law. This was a good man! This was a more excellent man than most of the people Jesus encounters in the Gospels. You would think that seeing the truth of Christ’s message and giving his heart to him would not be much of a leap in that man’s life. Christ even looks at this man and the Gospel says he looks at him with love. This is the only time the scripture says explicitly that Jesus looks at someone with love. This devout man eager to do what is right, seeing the Son of God look at him with love, responds not with a smile but with his face falling, and he walks away from that gaze sad. His heart was focused on the rewards, not on the relationship. He wanted to add eternal life to his possessions instead of making Christ his only possession.

The second problem wealth causes is that it deludes us into thinking that we can be self-sufficient. The whole image of the camel and the eye of the needle is meant to be ridiculously impossible: a really big thing going through a really small thing. The point of the image is that earning our salvation is just as ridiculous, but with God even the ridiculous and impossible is possible. This life is not about earning the reward of God’s favor, it’s about letting go and surrendering life to God. Again, the mindset of wealth focuses on the reward, focus on the relationship.

So are you rich and wealthy? Wealth is absolutely a matter of material possession, but it is also very much a disposition of the heart. Do not allow your heart to be choked by riches. The heart was not made for wealth it was made for love, it was not made for reward it was made for relationship. If you want to find the fullness of life and receive all that the heart longs for, you must not accumulate things but abandon things until there is nothing in your heart but your relationship with God. Wealth is clutter. Wealth is the things that distract your attention from the loving gaze of Christ.

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