Mk 10:17-27; Wis 7:7-11
We just heard Jesus give one of his many warnings against the love of money. The love of money is a curious kind of thing: it seems to me, that each and every one of us thinks that we don't have ENOUGH money.
Today’s readings offer us two tests for how we relate to money: the ‘camel’ test, and , to examine what we pray for. We’ll have collection at the end of Mass for the emergency tsunami relief, and our generosity is one test of our attitude of money.
What of the camel? This is typically taken to be a reference for our need to be inwardly DETACHED from the possessions that we outwardly use and own. The Lord Jesus said, "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God". Many scholars suggest that Jesus was referring to a night time gate into the city, a small little entryway, an entryway a man could crawl through even when the main day-time city gate was closed, in particular, an entryway that a camel could only enter when the belongings laden upon it, its riches, were first removed from it. Such an interpretation is echoed in the country western song that says, “I've never seen a hearse with a luggage rack” -you can’t take it with you when you go.
But the Lord Jesus is saying something more than just reminding us that we don't carry our riches into heaven: that my iPod, my mobile phone, and whatever is left in my wallet, will not be coming with me when St Peter is deciding whether to let me through the pearly gates. Rather, primarily, Jesus is speaking about how we RELATE to our possessions.
I may not have as much money as my friend, I may not have as much as many of you, but I am is as capable as any man of living in this world with my heart set on THIS world, at a DAILY level and a minute by minute level of valuing things and possessions more than I value God Himself. I am capable of being more ATTACHED in my heart to THINGS than I am to love of God and neighbour –I can be attached to such things even if I don’t have them, even if I am only looking at them with envy. The camel reminds me that I need to detached enough from things that I am capable of telling them go –the camel cannot get into the city unless its riches are removed from its back; I cannot get into heaven unless I am willing to leave the riches of this world behind me. And, of course, if I am going to be able to manifest that detachment when I get to the pearly gates then I have to live that detachment while on earth.
More briefly, the second of the two ‘wealth’ tests in today’s gospel concerns what we pray for:
In our first reading (Wis 7:7-11) we heard the words attributed to the great King Solomon, the great King who had many riches and yet sought and prayed more for divine Wisdom than for earthly wealth. It is Wisdom this enables us not only to know the right things but know the right things to DO, know the right way to love, to know how we should use our money, to know how to measure whether we have enough money.
If we want to test ourselves to know what we love, then one of the ways we can measure this is by looking at what we pray for: if I love just myself then I will pray for just myself; and, if I love money and possessions then I will pray asking for money and possessions; but, if I love my neighbour and I love my family and if I love my parishioners then my time in prayer will be spent praying for them.
And if, at present, my prayer IS just about me and is not about others, then if I want to start detaching myself from an excessive love of money, then making the prayer of Solomon my own is a good way to start: to pray to God for the gift of Wisdom, “ I prayed, and understanding was given me, I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me”(Wis 7:7). To pray for the Wisdom to know when we have enough, to know when to give it away, and to know how to own things without being attached to them.
[Excursus paragraph deleted from middle of sermon:
Money, of course, is something needed to live by. We didn't hear Jesus say so in today's Gospel passage, but we know that Jesus elsewhere not only tolerates but recommends that we "USE money, tainted though it is" (Lk 16:9). We know too that although Jesus called the rich young man in today's passage to "sell EVERYTHING you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven" (Mk 10:21) there were other followers of Jesus, like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, and the group of women who accompanied him, who continued to BOTH have money AND follow Jesus -while using their money to support the Lord Jesus in his work.
The Christian Tradition has always interpreted the call we just heard, the call to the rich young man to give up all his possessions, the Tradition has interpreted this as, on the one hand, a specific vocation addressed to some and not others, an invitation to follow a yet higher away, and, on the other hand, a warning to ALL of us of the danger of loving money: “how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven”.]