Friday, June 17, 2011

How Can a Rich Man Enter the Kingdom of God?

How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

I am a rich man. Our family is rich in material possessions and conveniences, in spite of what in the United States of America would be considered our precarious financial circumstances. I could scarcely manage without all the comforts of this fully industrialized and electronically developed society. I do not know where the clothes on my back or the food I eat or the furniture in my home come from, nor what web of unjust socioeconomic relationships govern the paths they travel from their places of origin to my home. I do not know what I or my family can do about the injustice in the world, but it is a reminder to pray to God that the relationships which are within the reach of our freedom may be founded on justice, solidarity, love, and mercy. And it is a reminder that we need to ask the Holy Spirit to transform our minds and open our hearts to the creative possibilities that God gives us to contribute to the common good.

I am a rich man in other ways too. There are riches that I possess in abundance, and that are very much at my disposal: the wealth of talent, capacity for expression, education, and experience in teaching others. I would like to think that here I have given liberally, that I have shared myself, that I have poured out these riches in love. But the truth is that even here I hoard my wealth. It is with these personal riches especially that Jesus says, "Go, sell all you have...follow me."

How much of my "giving" is really self-advancement? Very much, I fear. Images from the gospels resonate with my life: I love the special seats at gatherings, and being called rabbi. I love praying and performing religious acts for people to see, and--I hope--to applaud. I love to show my misery to the world so that everyone knows that I am suffering. It's such a sweet thing to be admired.

And so I have my "reward." I remain rich. I am a fool and a hypocrite. Even this confession of pharisaical behavior right now is really something of a scam; deep down there is that part of me that craves your admiration for my candor. Don't trust me! I don't trust myself!

The flaw, the twist, the self-love, the grasping seem to be a little mixed in with so much of what I do. And so it is, for human flesh and blood. "Forgive us our trespasses," we are taught to pray every day. The assumption, of course, is that we are going to trespass. Jesus doesn't want us to obsess over our faults, but to ask for the Father's mercy, and to be formed according to His will in the school that is this life: "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

So we fail, and God is rich in mercy. But there is a special way that we must ask for God's mercy, and that is with the humility of hearts that are themselves merciful. "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Here Jesus sums up life. We sin. But others also sin against us. We are hurt. We are betrayed. We are the victims of injustice. We are neglected. But we must forgive others. We must be people of mercy. This is not easy. This is where I experience my powerlessness. Here I must really "sell all I have" and give it away. Here is where following Christ begins. Here is where true riches are to be found.

How can I be merciful to others? I must ask God to enable me to be merciful to others. Everything begins in the position of prayer and poverty before God. Another word for this kind of poverty is trust.

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.

Now Peter is very perceptive at this point. He cries out, "then who can be saved?" It is more than a matter of economics, although on this level it is important to remember that there are, on the whole, two kinds of people: those who are rich, and those who want to be rich. On the personal level, however, everyone is "rich"--even if all he possesses is "himself." Because we must lose our very selves for His sake.

"For man it is impossible," Jesus says. So we can't trust in our own riches. We can't trust in ourselves!

"But nothing is impossible with God." So return, again and again, to that posture of begging for mercy, and that posture of trust because the God who does the impossible has given Himself to us. He wants to and He will transform us into people of compassion, people who give themselves away, people who follow Him and in Him discover the only true treasure, His Love.

I am a hypocrite and a fool, but I know that God's Mercy is true, and I want it, and I beg for it from God--I beg for it for myself and for the whole world. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have Mercy on me, a sinner.

1 comment:

Allison said...

So true.

No, we can't know everything about everything we purchase. But we can take little steps, like trying to grow some of our own vegetables, buying fair-trade items and getting as close to the producer of these goods as possible - the whole buy-local movement. But I also think this approach CAN become a kind of idol if we let it. So I really like your prayer at the end.