Daily Reflection
of Creighton University's Online Ministries
August 16th, 2011
Andy Alexander, S.J.

University Ministry and the Collaborative Ministry Office
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Tuesday of the 20th week in Ordinary Time
[420] Judges 6:11-24a
Psalm 85:9, 11-12, 13-14
Matthew 19:23-30

It is I who sent you. - Judges 6

"It will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven."
“Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said,“For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
- Matthew 19

It seems to me that we tend to forget that Jesus warned us about the dangers of being rich. Much of the world doesn't know the gospel or has forgotten his words about it being as hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven as it is for "a camel to pass through the eye of a needle." Upon really hearing this gospel, all of us are one with his first disciples is immediately asking him, "Then tell us, just WHO can be saved?" Of course, the consolation is that what Jesus really wants us to know is that "for God all things are possible."

That assurance of Jesus takes some translation. My guess at a translation is: "yes, it is very difficult, and will take great conversion, but with God's help, since all things are possible, even this kind of conversion is possible." There is hope for us, if we hear God's word and realize the message of Jesus calls us to a new way of seeing ourselves in the world, a new way of seeing our relationship with each other. Because God is love, we are called to loving, compassionate and giving of ourselves, as Jesus did.

So, if the values around us shape our desires to want more in order to be more, and success is defined in these terms, we need to let God's grace effect a conversion - a turning around in the other direction - toward a different set of values, outlined in Jesus' gospel.

What's wrong with being rich? Experience shows us that the more we have, the more energy it takes to maintain the wealth we have. And, it inevitably happens that the more we have, the more we want. And, sadly, the more we have, the more it seems we think we deserve what we have. Of course, there are outstanding exceptions. There are wealthy people who are incredibly generous and who work hard for the benefit of others. Unfortunately, that isn't the way it always works.

St. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus, puts it in terms of the two competing strategies of Jesus and the Evil One. The "Enemy of our human nature" has a strategy of drawing us to his side by attracting us to riches, which lead to honors, which ultimately trap us in pride - which ultimately is what ruins us. Pride takes away from God. St. Augustine said that pride is, "the love of one's own excellence." In contrast, Jesus draws us to himself by attracting us to poverty, which leads to dishonor, which ultimately offers us the gift of humility. [For a fuller explanation of the Two Ways of Desiring, see Week 17 of the Online Retreat, also on this website: onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/guide17.html ]

I find myself most challenged by how Jesus asks us, later in Matthew's gospel, Chapter 25:41-46, to live. It is our mission to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless and care for the sick and imprisioned. That is how we will be judged. It is stunning to me sometimes to realize that much of what I think is important, much of what troubles me, much of what takes up so much of my time, has nothing to do with caring for "the least" of Jesus' brothers and sisters. Too often the "riches" of talents and energies and our place in the world so insulate us from the day to day life and struggle of the poor that we can be seduced into the path that leads to pride, rather than the holy and simplifying path that leads to humility.

It is an examination we all can make and we can continually pray for the grace to heed the loving warnings of Jesus and ask for the graces of conversion.

Lord, guide us, each in our own situation, to be freer to serve you and your people. With you, all things are possible, so we entrust ourselves and our world to your care today. You cannot have willed such a horrible gap between the very wealthy and the very poor. Your desire must be for the greater care and dignity of all your people, around the world. Help us to find a way for your Kingdom to come and your will to be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. And, simplify my heart, so I can even experience some of the dishonor and humiliation that the poor so often experience, so that I may know the humility that will draw me to your own compassionate heart.

There is an outstanding summary of Catholic Social Teaching for our day - well worth reading in its entirety, as a meditation, with amazing relevance for the challenges of today. It is the great economic pastoral, written by the U.S. Catholic Bishops 25 years ago this year. I conclude with just two paragraphs from it. It is challenging and can call us to great conversion.

16. All members of society have a special obligation to the poor and vulnerable. From the Scriptures and church teaching, we learn that the justice of a society is tested by the treatment of the poor. The justice that was the sign of God's covenant with Israel was measured by how the poor and unprotected -- the widow, the orphan, and the stranger -- were treated. The kingdom that Jesus proclaimed in his word and ministry excludes no one. Throughout Israel's history and in early Christianity, the poor are agents of God's transforming power. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, therefore he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor" (Lk. 4:18). This was Jesus' first public utterance. Jesus takes the side of those most in need. In the Last Judgment, so dramatically described in St. Matthew's Gospel, we are told that we will be judged according to how we respond to the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger. As followers of Christ, we are challenged to make a fundamental "option for the poor" -- to speak for the voiceless, to defend the defenseless, to assess life styles, policies, and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor. This "option for the poor" does not mean pitting one group against another, but rather, strengthening the whole community by assisting those who are the most vulnerable. As Christians, we are called to respond to the needs of all our brothers and sisters, but those with the greatest needs require the greatest response.

202. d. The tax system should be continually evaluated in terms of its impact on the poor. This evaluation should be guided by three principles. First, the tax system should raise adequate revenues to pay for the public needs of society, especially to meet the basic needs of the poor. Secondly, the tax system should be structured according to the principle of progressivity, so that those with relatively greater financial resources pay a higher rate of taxation. The inclusion of such a principle in tax policies is an important means of reducing the severe inequalities of income and wealth in the nation. Action should be taken to reduce or offset a disproportionate burden on those with lower incomes. Thirdly, families below the official poverty line should not be required to pay income taxes. Such families are, by definition, without sufficient resources to purchase basic necessities of life. They should not be forced to bear the additional burden of paying income taxes [60].

Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy
U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986

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