The rich and the Kingdom of God

Gospel Mark 10:17-30 

There is an ancient story about a man called Aladdin, who possessed a magic lamp. If he would rub it and express a wish, it would be immediately fulfilled. Imagine if you were holding such a lamp, and allowed to ask for just one thing. What would you ask for? Great wealth, disappearance of the Covid virus, end of wars, etc.,etc.

The Bible says that one day King Solomon went to mount Gibeon to offer sacrifices, and in a dream God told him to ask for what he wished for ardently and it would be granted. Solomon could have asked for gold, health, power, strength. Instead this is what he said to God — “Look, I am still a child, and I am not yet able to govern such a great people; Lord, give me wisdom, give me a great wise heart that I may be able to distinguish good and evil. (1 King 3:4-15)

The first reading of today is a reflection on Solomon’s choice. He was very wise; he preferred the wisdom of God to every other gift. All treasures, precious stones, gold and physical beauty are nothing compared to the wisdom of God. Such temporary and material possessions are like mud or sand. We must learn to give things their proper importance and value, and choose things according to the plan of God. To go back to the story I mentioned in the beginning, wisdom is truly “Aladdin’s lamp,” but people are not convinced of this; they do not trust it and prefer other goods. Could this be the reason why many are still so unhappy?”

God enters into relationship with us to communicate to us through His Word. His Word is different from ours and we have to listen to it with fear and respect. The word that does not disturb our peace, that does not question our habits, and that does not transform our communities, cannot be the Word of God; it is only useless chatter and blabber.

A little child was playing with a very valuable gold plaited jar. All of a sudden, he put his hand into it and could not get it out. His father tried, but without success. They were thinking of breaking the jar, when the father said – Son, make one more try. Open your hand and hold your fingers out straight as you see me doing and then pull. To the dad’s astonishment the little fellow said — Oh no father, I cannot do that. If I did, I would drop my penny.

Many of us are like the little boy, so busy holding on to the worthless pennies of the world that we cannot accept liberation. The rich young man in today’s Gospel is just another example. He wants eternal life but will not let go of the “peanuts” of riches. The young man is a metaphor of all our lives. His story deserves our attention.

The young man really wanted to be accepted by Jesus because he was keeping all the commandments. But, Jesus reminds him that keeping the commandments is not enough. He has to go beyond the law and share his riches, with the needy. Unfortunately, the rich man is unwilling to accept Jesus’ idea.  He loves “material things” more than people, and thus, was breaking the commandment against idolatry and love of neighbour. He worshipped his wealth more than he worshipped God. His possessions “possessed him.”

Clearly, Jesus did not want this man as a disciple on his terms but rather on Jesus’ terms. We have to follow Jesus on His terms, not on our terms. Jesus said – ”you are lacking one thing, go and sell what you own.” We all lack something and need to get rid of something. It may not be money; it may be anger, a grudge, alcohol, drugs, jealousy, lust, apathy, lies, unfaithfulness, theft or fraud.

Why do riches prevent a man from reaching God? First, riches encourage a false sense of independence.  The rich think they can buy their way to happiness and buy their way out of sorrow. And hence don’t need God. Secondly, riches shackle a man to this earth. If a person’s interest is all “earth bound” he never thinks of the “hereafter.”  The Bible doesn’t say that money is the root of all evils. However, it does say that the love of money is the root of all evil. Matter of fact, Jesus had many rich friends like Zacchaeus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

There is an old story about an 18th century man who was going overseas. His life’s earning of gold and silver coins were carried in a big money belt he wore around his waist. The ship hit an iceberg and began to sink. It was sinking fast. People had to jump in the water and swim to the lifeboats already launched. The man jumped in, but because he could not bear the thought of leaving the heavy money belt behind, he went down to the bottom of the sea. The story ends with this haunting question — would you say that this man had his money or that his money had him? This story resembles today’s Gospel story.

The Kingdom of God connotes eternal life. Jesus confirmed this; that this is worth more than anything else, just as Solomon regarded wisdom as something which surpasses all wealth.

Imitation of Christ, and following Him, is possible only by renouncing and forsaking all that comes in the way of following Him, and the most powerful and dangerous hindrance is wealth. Why? Because the rich man feels that he needs nobody, neither God nor others. In his self-sufficiency and comfort, he can get entangled with the concerns of his work and forget what Jesus said – “even in your richness your life depends not on it.’ (Luke 12:15) Our life should not be dependent on money but money should be only one of the means to live happily. Money should not take the place of God.

We must rather have the feeling that everything comes from God (1 Cor. 15:10) and it is the way of God, not our own ways that lead to true happiness. The case of the young man in the Gospel is a good lesson for us.

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