On Wealth and the Wealthy (Matthew 19, 16-26) 6 September 2022
To the young man who wished to follow him, Christ said that, if he wanted to be perfect, he should go and sell all his belongings and give the proceeds to the poor. He would then have treasure in heaven and would be able to follow Christ (Matth. 19, 21). When the young man heard this he went away greatly saddened, because he was very rich and couldn’t do what the Lord asked him to.
Why did the Lord require him to sell all he had and give the money to the poor? Because it’s incompatible to have great riches and still live in accordance with Christ’s commandments. How can you be meek and humble, shedding tears over what others are suffering, while at the same time increasing your wealth many times over, building new houses, buying new horses and expensive clothes. Obviously you can’t because if you’re sympathetic towards others, you’ll share what you have with them. If you keep your wealth for yourself, this means that you love yourself more than you do your neighbors. But the Lord tells us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. So, if we love our neighbors, won’t we give whatever we have to the halt, the lame and the hungry? You can’t waste money you’ve gained from the sweat and blood of others on frivolous and senseless entertainments.
This is the reason why the Lord Jesus Christ says that, unless we’re prepared to leave our wealth behind, we won’t enter the kingdom of God, because we’d still be hard-hearted and misanthropic egotists. How can such people have a place in God’s kingdom? It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. But what has all this got to do with us, people who aren’t rich? There’s a direct connection. Think about what it is that harms the soul of those who are wealthy. They’re harmed by the fact that those people put earthly goods, the various pleasures, and luxury above all else. They consider them to be of even greater importance than spiritual blessings, which are acquired by those who may not have material goods, but who do have the great riches of the love for God and for their neighbors.
Those who are over-attached to worldly goods, who seek enjoyment, suffer precisely from the passion that prevents people from entering the kingdom of God. There are those among us who may not have money- and sometimes not even the bare necessities- but who would still like to have money, would enjoy pleasures and entertainments. They don’t sin because they haven’t the means, but if they had they’d commit the same sins as the rich man at whose door Lazarus sat, soon to die from poverty and hunger.
If, despite the fact that we aren’t rich, we nevertheless seek the pleasures and joys of life; if the aim of our life is prosperity; if all our thoughts are centered on how to spend this life as well as we can and have no concerns beyond that, then we’re certainly far removed from what the Lord requires. Because people who pursue purity of heart, people who give generously, want only to be close to God, to be in communion with him, to seek his grace and his love, and want to be Christ’s kin.
It’s often the case that those who have nothing on earth, who are the poorest of people, but are God’s servants, are richer than the richest people in the world. Their wealth resides in divine grace, purity of heart, love and sympathy for their hungry and unfortunate brothers and sisters. But above all, their riches are fervent love for God, Jesus Christ our Savior.
Now it’s easy to understand the answer given by Christ to the question from his perplexed disciples: ‘Who can be saved?’ (Luke 18, 26). His answer was: ‘What is impossible for people is possible for God’ (27).
For God, all things are possible. He can deprive hard-hearted and callous rich people of spiritual riches. And he can give the greatest joy in the Lord to the poorest and most disregarded of people, who are dying of hunger.
God can save everyone. He can save the rich, as well, if they repent, if they hate riches and put into practice the words of Christ: ‘Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor and… come and follow me’ (Matth. 19, 21). This is what Saint Anthony, one of the greatest saints did. When he was twenty years old, his parents died and he inherited a large fortune. One day, in Church, he heard the words of the Gospel: If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. And come and follow me’.
These words made a great impression on him, they entered deep into his heart and dominated the whole of his mind. Anthony the Great went and sold off all his property, shared the proceeds among the poor and went off into the wilderness, where he lived to a great age. He’d rejected all earthly goods, but received from God riches which were incomparably greater. God granted him the gift of prophecy and the capacity to perform miracles. He became the brother and friend of Christ.
This is how we, also, should receive Christ’s words concerning worldly wealth. Let us expel from our hearts any attachment to earthly goods. Let us seek only one thing: to be friends and kin of God, who love Christ and are loved by him.