Sunday, 11 October 2009

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

History has shown that Christianity has had an uneasy relationship with “wealth”. In fact, literature from the time of Chaucer made references to wealth often with negative connotation and that gave rise to terms like “filthy lucre”. The focus of this Sunday’s Gospel on the Rich Young Man’s inability to let go of his wealth, may sway us gently into this way of thinking that the possession of wealth is not a good [a bonum]. The Gospel states clearly that “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”. And because we are preoccupied by his inability to let go of his wealth, we may lose sight of the fact that the young man was a good man. In fact, as the Rich Young Man turns to Jesus for further guidance, the Gospel enumerates a list of virtues, a rather long list that the young has fulfilled. Thus, the inability to part with wealth should be placed in a bigger picture of the inability to follow Christ, i.e., he lacks the freedom to follow the Lord.

The focus is on discipleship. The Rich Young Man represents not just wealth, even though the adjective “rich” is used to qualify him. Instead, he represents any inability or the lack of freedom to follow the Lord. He is a reminder to us that anything, not only wealth, can deter us from following Christ. [Even the poor can fail in following the Lord].

In a positive sense, the focus on discipleship also reveals the real search of the Rich Young Man. Given all that he has, he is actually asking the question of the purpose of life. In a sense, he is typical of many people today, especially the young. For many of us, the train of life may be a never-ending ride or journey filled with distractions or amusements. Sadly, our frenetic pace of life does not always encourage the spiritual reflexion necessary to make life more purposeful.

But, like the Rich Young Man, at some point, in our insatiable quest for wealth of any kind—money, fame and success, we must stop and ask the important questions of life. This search may best be framed by these questions: “For whom am I ready to give up everything that I have”? For whom would I give up not just my wealth but also my career advancement, my addictions, my pleasure and my possessions? In short, Whom and not what do I think can fulfil my inmost longings better than anything that I have?

In a world divided by “haves” and “have-nots”, and where lucre is filthy, it is easy to pass judgement on the rich as those who will find it difficult to enter the kingdom of heaven. But, this simple division of the world may detract us, whether rich OR poor, to the need to deepen our discipleship. So, wealth is not really the enemy. Look at the long list of virtues the young man has. He has not done anything bad. In a sense, he is a model disciple but he is likened to someone living on the safe side of the law. What happens is that we tend to hold the avoidance of evil to be the sole measure of a virtuous life—see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. However, this attitude may lead to apathy, simply because, the avoidance of evil can easily be translated into non-involvement as one minds one’s own business. Thus, a pertinent or relevant question to ask in the current context is “How much of the way body politics is shaped in this country is in fact a direct or indirect consequence of this “I am not involved” attitude?” “I have not done anything wrong" is NOT always a right thing.

In the light of “I have done nothing bad” or virtue as the avoidance of evil, the possession of wealth leads us into the realm of possibilities. That was why Jesus looked steadily at the young man and loved him. Jesus saw the great potential in this young man. From “I have not cheated” he saw the possibilities of this young man helping the poor. From “I have not killed”, he saw the possibilities of this young man giving life to those who needed it. Thus, the critique against the possession of wealth is best understood as a critique against not doing what is possible.

In this sense, wisdom is needed as we heard in the first reading. We must choose wisely the course of action with regard to what we have. In the end, we begin to appreciate that true wealth begins not with accumulation—with money, fame or success, etc. True wealth begins with doing what is good or doing what can be done. It is not just avoiding evil, important as that may be.

Wealth is relative, that is, its possession is always in relation to God [for He provides] and others [whom God chooses to bless through us]. It is not possession in absolute terms. In general people are not afraid of sharing. People are not afraid of giving. Wealth only becomes an expression of greed when people fear that there may not be enough to get back what they had given out. [Clearly, a lack of trust in God’s Providence]. People hold on to what they have because they fear that in giving up what they have, what is replaced will not be able to satisfy them. In the Gospel, Christ offers Himself as the only satisfying reward for giving up. “I tell you solemnly, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not be repaid a hundred times over”. Christ is the only wealth or possession worth the sacrifice of our lives.

In summary, the other side of the wealth is discipleship. It is this relationship between what is gift, what is given that we begin to understand the sin of omission—the sin of not doing what is made possible by the gift given. As long as we have an uneasy relationship with wealth due to the guilt of association with filthy lucre, then we will not be able to appreciate wealth in relation to the Kingdom of God. If you feel guilty because you are wealthy, then know that it is the wrong guilt. But, if you feel guilty because you have not done enough with what you have, then you may be on the track of proper conscience. And, the development of a proper conscience with regard to the possession of wealth begins with our direct involvement with the poor. Wealth may be the root of all evil but it is also the seed of discipleship—a start on the road of grace. “Do what you can. Give to the poor. Come follow me”. The challenge for the Christians today is not the possession of wealth or even the accumulation of wealth but rather to understand, appreciate and interiorise how our wealth is to be at the service of the Kingdom of God—for the praise and glory of God and through us, the means of God blessing our brothers and sisters.