Rich people often have a hard time simply because the accumulation of wealth is often considered to be something gained as a result of being a wicked, selflish, driven and focused entrepreneur. You and I both know that to be true that such people out there exist.
The reason for this post is that I saw recently a statement by popular actress Jodie Foster whose meme criticising the wealthy is making its rounds on facebook. Some like myself and others have highlighted the fact that she herself is very wealthy and won’t be sharing it with the whole world anytime soon.
That kind of exposition of ”take the beam out of your own eye” is to be expected but not really what I have a problem with as it’s more what she said.
This to me sounds like something Joseph Stalin would have said because it’s too general as to find out what exactly she means when referring to those who are rich. I argue in this article not all rich people are bad and not all create poverty either.
I think it was St.John Chrysostom who said that the rich exist for the sake of the poor and the poor exist for the salvation of the rich. St.Thomas Aquinas also argued that those who are rich and benefit from all the material niceties in life are often being punished by God ( or rather God allows them to punish themselves ) and the poor are being rewarded. Allow me to flesh that out a little more.
The rich guy, as a result of his greed, is allowed by God to indulge more in that and the more he indulges in it, the more the fruits and true riches of the Holy Spirit are taken away from him.
This kind of person is often very cynical, sees everyone but his own family as a problem and suffers from mental illnesses such as psychopathy/sociopathy and extreme paranoia. He also tends to steer clear of religion because it sheds a blinding light on all the darkness of his ego and wrong doing. how do I know? well my father in law is very wealthy and he is everything I just described.
The poor person is often being protected by the Holy Spirit so as not to fall into the materialism that would eventually deprive him from a somewhat already healthy relationship he has with God.
We’ve just talked about rich people who are being punished and poor people being rewarded, does this make all rich people bad and poor people good? No it doesn’t as sometimes riches can be both a blessing and a heavy cross to carry for to sanctify the one who has the riches. However with the blessings also comes the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to use it as a force for good.
Some people think that a rich person needs to give it all away in order to be a true follower of Christ and we will get to that part of the Gospel and the wealthy man in a minute.
First it needs to be said that some people view giving it all away as the answer to curing poverty and will show signs of a true rich person repenting of his ways by becoming like one of us.
This kind of thought process is derived from a sense of the quick fix culture we live in. But I’d like to remind you of a saying: give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Rich people are called to be charitable not just in the sense of giving to someone whose hungry something to eat but in using the money wisely to build up and help society by creating jobs, housing, churches and charitable institutions. the charitable organisations get the kickstart of the rich mans initial funding but then somehow seeks away to stay on its feet by getting the funds of the community around them.
Why? because otherwise soon the rich man ( depending on how much he has ) is not going to have any more money is he? its all gone now and the charitable organisation he once started, because it doesn’t have the backing of the world falls into ruin.
This is the quick fix culture we live in. ”Give me this” and ”Give me that”. ”I will enjoy the money now and worry about the hangover later.”
There’s a good example of this we can draw from the Gospels. Jesus is tempted in the desert by Satan and one of the things Satan says to him in conversation is to turn the stone into bread and end his hunger. Jesus knows however that the bread he eats is here today and gone tomorrow but theres something more important than this quick fix being presented to him and thats the eternal hunger being satiisfied and the spritual investment into eternal life. Sin is often a quick fix but it has sometimes physical as well as spiritual consequences.
Therefore on the materialistic level we view money as a quick fix to our daily financial problems and discomforts but when the money runs out what do we do? Our focus was not God and his kingdom so we’ve been punished by our lack of wisdom on approach to money. The punishment is of course something not chosen by God but incurred by the individual who brought it upon himself. All God is doing is observing us beating ourselves over the head with a stick.
What about this Gospel passage:
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Most people assume from reading this passage that the rich man won’t gain eternal life because he wouldn’t give it all away and because Jesus follows up with how hard it is for a rich man to enter heaven.
This is not the case as the rich man asked Jesus what must he do to gain eternal life and Jesus replies to follow the commandments. right, thats fine but he wants to be spiritually perfect and really follow Jesus. Jesus tells him that if he gives it all away and follows him then he can be his disciple. Obviously the guys upset because he’s not quite ready to leave his life of comfort just yet and so he walks away.
What we learn from this passage is that there are two types of people in the world. there are those who live in the world and follow the commandments and there are those who choose to renounce the world and choose the religious vocation in following Jesus in a more spiritually perfect path such as priest or monk and nun.
Now Jesus follows up with that its easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than to get into heaven. Is Jesus contradicting himself? Just earlier he told the wealthy man to obey the commandments and gain eternal life but now he appears to be sighing at him walking away and saying how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Therefore we need to examine what is the heaven Jesus speaks of? everyone ( both Atheist and Christian alike ) has a narrow literal interpretation of this which is : give it all away and follow Jesus and anyone not doing this cannot be a follower of Jesus.
What are my thoughts? well first of all Christians are not called to give just their wealth away in order to truly follow Jesus in a religious vocation but other riches they have which is the indulging of the ego and sinful addictions to all that is contrary to God. these are the false riches which bring us comfort that are called to be discarded.
Therefore the kingdom of heaven is not just something beyond the clouds but the here and the now. we can enter heaven right now by following that path of spiritual perfection however the lures of our material wealth and local prestige as a political or popular figure amidst the people are not easily given up and so even though we follow the commandments and do our best to have a relationship with Jesus, we still can gain eternal life to come and only experience it every now and again in the here and now.
Even the disciples took him literally and so they said ”who then can be saved?” but Jesus, seeing their literal interpretation of what he said as to indicate all rich people don’t go to heaven says: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
It is with that statement Jesus puts to bed all their literal interpretations of his sayings and humans havn’t changed. To this day we tend to totally miss the mark of what Jesus is saying to us just like the apostles did.
Let me conclude then that, in defence of the wealthy, theres nothing wrong with having it but without the prayer and guidance of the Holy Spirit and his wisdom to use it, becomes difficult to experience heaven here and now and even in the life to come as we can succumb to greed. Like a violent tornado that tears up everything in our path we risk forfeiting our place even in the world to come.
This is why being rich is a difficult vocation because of the temptation to sin and thus makes it harder for the rich man to enter heaven. Its the same with marriage and celibacy. celibacy is rewarded more in the Gospels than those who marry even though both contribute to the kingdom just like the rich and poor do. Marriage is a vocation where the indulgence in the sexual act can lead to more mortal sins if we don’t treat it with the respect and dignity it deserves. Same with riches.
King David was rich but he had the initial God given wisdom to use it.
If you’re reading this and you’re wealthy, Ask the Holy Spirit daily to guide you in your ability to use it effectively but whatever you do don’t give into your comrade Jodie Foster.
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