Tuesday August 17, 2004 Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Ezekiel 28:1-10) Gospel (St. Matthew 19:23-30)
The Lord in the gospel reading tells us that it is hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. When we look at the first reading, we see what some of the problems are. When one becomes very wealthy the person oftentimes will think that he is very intelligent; that he doesn’t need God; that he has done all things by his own power and it begins to corrupt. It corrupts the mind and it corrupts the way the person begins to deal with others. The person suddenly becomes self-focused and thinks everyone is there to serve the rich rather than the rich serving those who are beneath them as far as financial ability goes.
We have to remember that of all the gifts that God has given to us, they are given for us to be able to serve others. To some he has given great intelligence and they can put that intelligence at the service of God; they can use it to help others; and, of course, they use that also to be able to provide for their own living. We all have different talents and abilities and all are given for those same reasons. The same is true for those who have money. It is a lot easier for us, however, to take the intangible things and put them at the service of others. But, when we take something like money or material goods, we don’t like to use those for the service of God and of others but rather we put ourselves first. Then, if there is something left over we will give a portion of that to God and maybe we will even give a little bit to the poor or to people who are in need. But we always make sure that we look out for ourselves first when it comes to things like finances.
So, what the Lord is getting at in all of this, as St. Paul says to Timothy, is that it is the love of money which is the root of all evil. It is not the money itself but it is what the money can do to people. And, so, we have somebody like the king of Tyre thinking that he is a god because he has managed to pile up all this wealth. The reality is, like anyone else, he is going to die and, in fact, he is going to die a violent death. So the Lord says, what kind of a god are you if that is the case? And so He has to help us to see the reality of who we are if we get too caught up in ourselves. But even worse, to the king of Tyre, who is to die this way, the Lord says, You will die like the uncircumcised. In other words, you are going to die a horrible death and there is no hope for eternal life for you because you do not repent; because you are caught up in yourself; because there is no thought of God. That is where the problem comes: When we get ourselves caught up in all kinds of things we take our focus off of the Lord and we put it on ourselves and we put it on all of our wealth or on all of our stuff or whatever it might be. And this is why the Lord is saying that it is very hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Now some of us may want to sit back and say, “Well, thankfully, I don’t live in a mansion and I don’t have a chauffer driving me around so He is not talking about me.” Wrong. Remember that if we look at the nature of things in the world and even as the Lord would have been speaking to those people, people in America who are of the lower financial classes would be considered very, very, very wealthy – exceedingly wealthy. If you go to India or Africa or some other area of the world where the people are very poor and they are living in little thatched huts, for somebody to live in a home like what even the poorest have in America they would be completely jealous. They would think those people to be extremely wealthy. And, so, we have to look at ourselves and what we consider middle-class in America. We have to realize that that is extreme wealth for the vast majority of the world. We have to realize that the Lord is talking about us. We have to be careful to keep our focus where if belongs – to keep it on God and to make sure that we are not putting our own selves before God. That is why Jesus says, With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. Only through prayer are we going to be able to be saved because only through prayer are we going to be able to keep ourselves from getting caught up in our money and all of our wealth and all of our materialism. And only through prayer will we keep our focus on God where it belongs instead of on all of the other things and especially upon ourselves. That is what Our Lord is getting at.
And so those whom the world considers first the Lord tells us are going to be last, but those who are among the last are going to be the first. That is, the first to inherit eternal life; the first to be rewarded because anything that they had been willing to let go of is going to be given back a hundred times more and eternal life, as well. Ultimately, that is all that matters. You can pile up as much wealth as you want in this world and wind up in hell and what good did any of it do? Absolutely nothing. You can be in stark poverty in this world and go to heaven and that person will be greatly blessed for all eternity. All that matters is eternal life. That is where we need to keep our focus so that we don’t get caught up in all the things of this world but, rather, we stay completely caught up in God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.