[singing] “Money makes the world go round, the world go round. Money makes the world go round. Of this you can be sure, Pzzzt on being poor! Money, money, money...
I offer this rendition of a number from the musical “Cabaret” as an example – a rather stark example - of the difference between the view of the world towards wealth and the view of today’s Gospel passage towards wealth. They are not the same.
The Gospel is a challenge – certainly for me and most probably for you. Because if you got up this morning and rolled out of a bed instead of sleeping on the floor, and flicked a switch and lights immediately came on, and you turned a faucet and clean water suddenly appeared, and your problem at breakfast was not a worry IF there was anything to eat but rather a decision about WHAT to eat: the Honey Nut Cheerios, or the Chocolate CoCo Puffs, or the Grapenuts or some other choice of cereal, or toaster muffins, or whatever: then you are wealthy by the standards of the world. And Jesus warns: “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” OUCH!
So what are we to do? Well, let us first look more closely at today’s Gospel. A man runs up to Jesus. We are not told his name. I think his name is left out because he is supposed to represent every one of us. But we will call him “Harry”. Harry asks Jesus a question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Notice Harry’s stance: What must I do to inherit (that is, earn) eternal life? How do I earn my salvation? Harry wants to make it on his own, he wants to earn eternal life, he wants to deserve it. Harry would make a good Texan.
Apparently Harry is good at earning things. He is accomplished. He is rich. He is probably an Eagle Scout. He’s earned a bunch of merit badges, accomplished a lot of tasks, learned a lot of things, and earned his Eagle Scout rank. That is good in itself. But now he applies his ability to earn things to eternal life, and that is a problem.
Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. He replies “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Harry is successful both in economic life (he has a lot of possessions) and Harry is successful in religious life: he has kept all the commandments from his youth. Harry is a high achiever. His Jewish mother must have been proud of him!
Then Jesus lowers the boom. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him [oh oh, when Jesus loves you you better brace yourself] Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
POW! Harry goes away sad, for he had many possessions. Actually, the possessions had Harry, and he was not free to accept the wonderful invitation to follow Jesus.
Jesus then changes the terms of the discussion. Notice Jesus does not talk about inheriting eternal life, instead He talks about entering the kingdom of God. “Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!"
Inheriting eternal life and entering the Kingdom of God are similar, but distinct, realities. Inheriting eternal life is about something in the future, which Harry thinks depends on his accomplishing or earning it. Then it will be mine. I’ve earned it. But that is not true.
Entering the kingdom of God however is a present reality, something not in the future, but here and now. “The Kingdom of God is among you” (Lk 17:21) says Jesus, or “The Kingdom of God is within you” in some translations. The Kingdom is not off in the future, but here and now, very close, extremely intimate.
And it consists in recognizing that God is King. And desiring, longing, and yearning for God to be the ruler and King of my life. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done” in my heart, in my life, as Jesus taught us to pray.
For God to be King in my life means that I must recognize that everything I have: the talents and abilities I possess, the country and family and culture I was born into, the education and training and good example I received, all my accomplishments and successes, every breath I take, every thought I think, is all gift. I did not earn or deserve any of it. It is all gift. Not my doing, but God’s gift.
Ultimately it is NOT about how much I own, or how much I accomplish, or even how much good I do, but rather how much I let God rule my life and let God love me.
The appropriate attitude then is not pride about my accomplishments, and certainly not possessiveness about my possessions, but rather gratitude: the recognition that all is gift. Gratitude is the opening to the Kingdom of God.
That is a difficult way to live, with that much openness to God. It is to live the life of Christ. We can’t accomplish that on our own, but we don’t need to. For we have the reassurance of Jesus: "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God." AMEN