In today’s Gospel (Matthew 19:23) Jesus says, “It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Many have tried to soften this message saying that what Jesus is really saying to us is that he wants us to be detached from our possessions.
I would suggest that this reflects our middle class values – nothing so challenging that it might make us change our lives and stop pursuing upward mobility.
Being rich can really be a problem – and many of us who are middle class are really rich in terms of the world.
Being rich means that we don’t have to worry about tomorrow (except in terms of the stock market). Our needs are taken care of.
Being rich means that we don’t have to worry about today – whether we will have work in order to be able to feed the family.
Being rich means we can insulate ourselves from the suffering of the world, channel surfing and avoiding any news about poverty or injustice.
Being rich means we can attempt to salve our conscience by sending money.
Being rich means we can look down on those who are poor, claiming that they don’t work or don’t want to work and that they just want a handout, forgetting where our riches come from.
Being rich means we may be blinded to the sources of riches, the ways in which our wealth may be “filthy lucre,” gained at the price of the sweat of the poor.
Being rich means we forget that we are not God.
In today’s first lectionary reading (Ezekiel 28: 1-10), the prophet excoriates the prince of Tyre for thinking himself a god, thinking that “your wisdom and know-how have earned you a fortune, gold and silver flowed into your treasury. Clever in trade, you became wealthy and as your fortune increased, your heart became prouder.”
There is a problem with wealth as both Jesus and the prophet Ezekiel point out.
I think Luke Timothy Johnson puts it well in a book I’m now reading, Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church: The Challenge of Life-Acts to Contemporary Christians:
The good news announced by the prophet Jesus is that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor (see [Luke] 1:52; 6:20; 7:22; 16:19-31).
We better listen.