Reflection on the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the past week, the troubling question was raised in one of the weekday Gospel-readings where Jesus taught: ‘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.’ The importance of this question might be gauged to some extent by the fact that, while not all of Jesus’s teachings are included in all three synoptic gospels (of Matthew, Mark and Luke), this saying is.
And as Christianity began to spread in the ancient world, the question of the threat posed by the possession of wealth to the chance of salvation became a frequently discussed topic. And it has remained a potentially unnerving question for any Christian whose wealth is greater than what is strictly speaking necessary for survival in this world. For the thought that a wealthy person has as much chance of getting to heaven as a camel has of passing through the eye of a needle, seems to lead inexorably to the conclusion that the possession of wealth is incompatible with salvation.
It has of course been somewhat irreverently and even flippantly suggested that it’s really not so big a problem after all. You only need to have a minuscule camel and a huge needle, and the problem is solved. However, this sounds more like a desperate, if humorous, attempt to refuse to face the problem head-on.
There can be no downplaying the radical nature of Jesus’s teaching on wealth. However, the passage where this ominous teaching occurs also contains, in response to the obvious question: ‘Who then can be saved?’, Jesus’s more consoling answer: ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’
Perhaps the ‘good news’ behind the Christian teaching on wealth is that Jesus doesn’t want to force us into feeling guilty about enjoying the good things of this world; still less does he want to foment feelings of resentment in us towards those we might perceive as ‘wealthier’ than us; but rather he wants us to realize that we have all been created for a destiny far beyond what even the greatest wealth of this world can guarantee. We have been created to share in God’s own divine life for ever. And that should naturally mean, as with God himself, a life not of hoarding, but of sharing.
Fr. Martin Henry
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