“How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
Often times in my youth that line from the Gospel of Mark was used by Pastors to talk about the financial needs of the community and of the parish. It wasn’t given as a direct connection, but more of a bridge toward a conversation between those who have and those who don’t. A twinge of Catholic guilt would also wash over me and make me wonder, in my youthful faith, if making money would condemn me.
A few years ago I was at a mass in a nearby parish and they had a visiting priest from a poor African nation. After hearing this Gospel reading I sat back and said “Uh-oh… here it comes. Get out your wallet.” Then the priest started his homily saying something I never expected…
“This Gospel has nothing to do with money.”
I perked up. “What?” I thought, “but Jesus talks about how rich people can’t enter heaven,” I continued to mutter in my head.
The priest went on to discuss in detail how this Gospel was about those things that get between us and Jesus. For this man, it was money. For others it may be work, or vices or addictions or any number of things. The point Jesus was trying to make was that this person was a good person. He followed the commandments and was trying to understand Jesus’ message. But he could not release that which kept this good person from being a holy person, from reaching salvation.
He also stated that this young rich man was one of the few people, outside of the Apostles, that Jesus personally asked to follow him. He must have been very special indeed.
Yesterday, as this Gospel appeared again on our Liturgical calendar, our local priest, Father Diaz, elaborated further, stating that wealth does not assure condemnation no more than poverty assures salvation. He went on to discuss that in Jesus’ time, the Jews believed that one’s success in life was often tied to God’s blessing. As those with physical ailments, like leprosy, were believed to have such afflictions so that they may pay for their sins or the sins of their ancestors, so too would wealth and success be a sign of God’s graces upon them.
As scandalous as it was for Jesus to heal people, which literally symbolized forgiving their sins, so too was Jesus’ statement that the rich will have a difficult time entering heaven. The apostles were confused… how could wealth, a sign of God’s blessing, impede entry into heaven? Because, it offers too many temptations that block our way.
As Jesus later comments, it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it would be for a rich man to enter heaven. In its literal sense, this seems impossible. In it’s historical context, it offers a way through the pearly gates, as the eye of the needle was also the name of a small door. In order for a camel to enter through it, it would require them to remove all of the baggage the camel was carrying and for the camel to get on it’s knees to pass through the door.
Expel our excess baggage. Get on our knees.
Two very practical and possible ways to overcome a seemingly impossible challenge.
So I must remember to always remove that which interferes between me and Jesus, between me and holiness. As Jesus mentioned before, we must do whatever is required, such as cut off our hands, pluck out our eyes, take up our cross, die for our faith… we must do whatever is required of us to remove our baggage, get on our knees and with humility and purity embrace Jesus Christ.