It is a rarity for Christ to feel as though He needs to repeat Himself in the Gospels. Often, He will state a teaching and leave it as is, even if difficult to understand. Sometimes, He will offer a parable, then explain it to the Apostles later, in private. In today’s Gospel, however, He repeats, with urgency, “how hard it is for those with wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” These words are certainly intense, and they distress Christ’s followers, who immediately ask, “then who can be saved?” Given that almost every person living in the United States lives in a way that an ancient person would have considered wealthy, it is vitally important for us to understand what Christ intends in this teaching.
The Lord is certainly unsparing here in teaching that riches cannot co-exist with salvation. He is also, of course, right. Christ invites all of us to follow Him into the kingdom of His Father, a supernatural kingdom that exists in the soul and in eternity. He invites us into a friendship that is all-consuming, since it is a friendship with the source of all existence Himself. The choice we have before us is a defining one; it cannot be answered halfway or casually. To the degree that we choose the home we build here on earth over the home that awaits us in heaven, we cannot step forward to follow the Lord. If we hold on to the world’s riches as our source of comfort and security, we will not be capable of entering the adventure into infinity that our God has in mind for us.
So what do we do? Do we all have to sell whatever we possess and live in total poverty in order to be friends of the Lord? There are certainly some people called to that kind of radical life, and those who live in austerity for the love of God really do have a unique opportunity to enjoy His friendship. A soul without the distraction of possessions and ambitions is free to enjoy God more deeply, and run towards Him more quickly. Yet, not all are called to that life, and extreme renunciation is not necessary for every soul. What all of us must do, no matter our calling, is love God more than anything we possess or desire here in the world.
This choice, to detach ourselves from love of what we own and from desire to own more, attaching our hearts first to God and to His kingdom, it called spiritual poverty. This is what Christ speaks of when He says “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This sort of poverty, the sort that God loves, is accessible to every soul, no matter how much they own. If a rich person is not attached to what they own, loving God first and giving freely from what they have, this person is beautifully poor in the sight of heaven. Likewise, if a person in poverty spends life not only desiring the fulfillment of his or her needs, but coveting what the rich possess, that person can become as deformed in soul as the wealthy, though this is certainly a less likely scenario. The question is not so much how much one possesses, but how much desires possessions over God. Christ calls each of us to remember that this world is fleeting, and that only His love lasts forever. He urges us to examine our lives, and not to pour out our hearts and souls for that which will pass away, and which cannot benefit us after our death. Rather, we should look for Him and His will in and above all things. Then, no matter what we have possessed in this life, we will be rich in the one way that matters, the one way that lasts, enjoying treasure in heaven without end.