Wealth, the pursuit of riches, having your whole life taken up by the never-ending cycle of earning, spending, and consuming is something that quickly keeps us from God. The rich man in today’s Gospel loved his riches more than he loved God. Lest I exaggerate, let me note that the rich man was not a “bad” person. He endeavored to keep all the commandments and claimed to have kept them all from his youth. Now, we do not know what this man ultimately did. Perhaps he later repented. What we do know is that he walked away from this encounter with Jesus sad at the prospect of selling his riches, giving to the poor, and following Jesus.
After the man went away, Jesus explained to his disciples that riches are one of the biggest barriers to entering the Kingdom of God. He made this point very emphatically when he said, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). Very often, when commenting on this passage of Scripture, preachers and teachers try to reduce its impact. One way they do this is by attempting to explain that “the eye of the needle” to which Jesus referred was a gate into a walled ancient Middle Eastern city. But Jesus was talking about a hand-held needle and stuffing an entire camel through its eye, which is not just difficult, but impossible.
The impossibility of a camel passing through the eye of a needle is what prompted his disciples to ask, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus assured them by saying, “All things are possible for God,” even saving someone who is rich. After all, that is just what Jesus tried to do for the rich man, who St. Mark tells us the Lord loved: save him. But God does not save anyone against his will.
Jesus does not merely tell the rich man just to give up his riches. He tells him to sell his possessions and “give to the poor.” The Lord assured the man that by selling what he owned and giving to the poor he would have treasure in heaven. My friends, if our lives are dedicated to seeking treasure, then our reward will be the earthly treasure we accumulate. But, as our first reading reminds us, the goal of our faith is the salvation of our souls.
Yesterday my family and I watched the movie Tomorrowland. While there was a lot I did not like about the film, at root it was about how every day we hear about all the bad things happening in the world, about how things are getting worse minute-by-minute. Being inundated through mass media with bad things and dire predictions all day, every day paralyzes us, causing us to ask, “Where do I start?” Paralysis keeps us from doing simple things like consuming less and giving more, not just of our money, but our time and energy, in order to make a positive impact for the Kingdom of God.
Moreover, the movie focused on the importance of hope, the utter necessity of acting on the belief that all is not lost, that we can make the world a better place by doing what the slogan with which we’re all familiar tells us: “Think globally, act locally.”
In the opening passage of his message for Lent this year, Pope Francis wrote:
Usually, when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure … Our heart grows cold. As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off. Today, this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference. It is a problem which we, as Christians, need to confrontIn terms of the population of the world right now, every one of us here is rich, wealthy beyond the imagination of most people. What the Holy Father is saying is that it is easy for those of us in the developed world to become so narrowly focused on our own lives, to be caught up in the rat race, that we simply don’t care, or have the time to care, what else is happening in the world, how our lifestyle impacts our fellow human beings and the health of the planet.
Not wanting to leave us without hope, the Holy Father, in the same message, noted: “When the people of God are converted to [God’s] love, they find answers to the questions that history continually raises.” How the love of God confronts the problems of every era, including our own, is by raising up saints. Perhaps the best known of God’s answers to the problem of growing indifference is Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, who will be raised to the altar as a saint later this year. Even beyond her death, the Missionaries of Charity remain committed to the globalization of caring. Another shining answer is Servant of God Dorothy Day, whose cause for canonization is now underway.
Caring is the opposite of indifference. Genuine care, which is not limited to meeting a person’s material needs- though it seeks to meet those for sure- is borne of love. I firmly believe that by inviting the rich man to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow him, Jesus tried to draw the man out of himself, away from being absorbed only in his own life, to give up the pursuit of holiness as an individual effort consisting primarily of scrupulous observance of the law. In short, the Lord called him to be truly liberated. It’s a radical call.