12th Sunday after Pentecost; Martyrs Adrian and Natalia and 33 companions of Nicomedia (4th c.).
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Gospel: Matthew 19:16-26
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Especially in the Old Testament, the understanding of wealth and poverty is different than what we hear today both in secular culture and even from Christians. It’s important to keep this in mind to rightly understand the events in today’s Gospel.
While the modern concern, for example, with “income inequality,” is not absent in the Scriptures, the fact that some are rich and others poor is not taken as inherently unjust. Rather a person’s economic condition is seen as reflecting the will of God for that person.
This doesn’t mean–in either case–that my economic condition determines my moral standing in the presence of God. While God makes some rich and others poor, all are bound by the same obligation to keep the commandments as Jesus reminds the rich young man.
Additionally, to say with the Old Testament that wealth is a blessing doesn’t mean that it isn’t without its own moral obligations and dangers. With wealth comes the responsibility to use wealthy wisely.
Those who have more have a heavier obligation to care for others; not one’s own parents and children but the poor as well. As we hear in today’s Gospel, fidelity to these specific obligations–to act justly, to love mercy “and to walk humbly” with God (see Michah 6:8)-is the start of perfection.
Listen again to the conversation between Jesus and the rich young man. In response to the man’s question “what must I do to be saved?” Jesus says simply and directly that he must keep the commandments.
It is only when the young man wishes “to justify himself” that Jesus invites him to live by a higher standard. While his salvation is not in question, he is still lacking. He can be perfect if only he is willing to do what perfection requires.
And what must he do? What does perfection require? The man must sell all that he has, give the profit to the poor and to follow Jesus as His disciple.
In saying this, Jesus is not calling into question the moral goodness of wealth. But what He is doing is highlighting an Old Testament concern about wealth
Too easily, wealthy can be used to buy illusory independence from God and neighbor. “Those who trust in their riches will fall,” we read in Proverbs (11:28, NIV) “but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.” Likewise, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Proverbs 14:31).
The question for my life then becomes this: What is it in my life that keeps me separated from God and neighbor?
For the rich young man in the Gospel, it was his many possessions but what it is for me? The specific command of our Lord to the young man is helpful here.
Jesus doesn’t condemn wealth as such but He does challenge the man to put his wealth at the service of others. “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
And so the question for me becomes, what am I holding on to that can be put at the service of others? What am I holding on to that keeps me from drawing closer to Jesus Christ by keeping me separated from you? What are the areas of my life where I think God is absent and where my will rather than His will is sovereign?
The other thing about wealth is that it is often used to buy the appearance of respectability. Put slightly differently, what in my life do I use to earn the favor of others rather than the favor of God?
Or how do I use you to bolster my own self-image rather put the gifts God has given me at the service of your flourishing and sanctification?
My brothers and sisters in Christ! All of us can be like the rich young man. We can all hold on to things that we use to justify our separation from God, our indifference to those in need and our pursuit of worldly success at the expense of the Kingdom of God.
The solution to this is not to pretend that our wealth isn’t wealth. It is rather to make a conscience and consistent effort to put our wealth–material, intellectual, or social–at the service of the Kingdom of God.
Today, Jesus calls each of us to perfection. He calls each of us to take that which keeps us from Him and put it the service of God and of our neighbor.