Daily Reflection
August 16th, 2005

Robert P. Heaney

John A. Creighton University Chair
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Judges 6:11-24a
Psalm 85:9, 11-12, 13-14
Matthew 19:23-30

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of heaven.” There has probably been more effort expended in various sermons to explain away this uncomfortable saying of Jesus than for all the rest of his sayings combined. Pastors do not want their wealthy parishioners to be too uncomfortable. They depend upon them, after all, to sustain the parish enterprise. This was just a figure of speech, wasn’t it? So it’s OK to be rich.

Jesus did not say it was not OK. He just said that it was hard – hard to do both – to be rich and to participate in God’s Kingdom. Nor was this the only such saying. “You cannot serve two masters – God and money.” “Sell what you have . . . and come follow me.” Etc.

Modern game theory has made clear what has, I guess, always been pretty obvious – that even in the best of all possible worlds, one without greed or avarice or laziness, resources will still end up being unevenly distributed. There will always be rich and poor.

The problem for the rich comes about in several ways. First, simple care for the resources one controls can occupy all of one’s time and energy, leaving little time to attend to the work of the Kingdom. (“You cannot serve two masters . . .”) Second, the rich are insulated from the problems and suffering around them; they become blind and deaf. Third, they are inclined to think they are entitled to enjoy what they have earned as in the story of the rich man and the beggar at his gate in Luke’s Gospel. And in many cases, of course, they did work hard for it.

But what they can easily miss is that it is all gift, even their aptitudes, their drive, their health, their luck – all gifts. Resources are gifts that we have been given – but for what purpose? Precisely to be used for others – for their welfare and benefit – to build them up, to alleviate their pain and suffering. We do not need to be reminded that it is hard to be poor. Jesus reminds us that it is hard to be rich, too. It is hard both ways – for the rich to give without condescension and pride, and for the poor to receive without resentment.

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