A Word To The Wise
Tuesday: Twentieth Week of the Year: August 16, 2016
Year II: Ezekiel 28:1-10; Canticle: Deuteronomy 32:26-36; Matthew 19:23-30
The Responsorial (from Deuteronomy, chapter 32) reminds us: “It is I who deal death and give life.”
God has made it quite clear that his teaching is on an extremely high level: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). But when he chooses to teach us how to live, he knows how to meet us where we are. Nothing could be more “down to earth” than the central idea of today’s readings. Both are saying the same thing. And saying it in language too plain to miss.
But we miss it anyway!
The teaching of both readings is that wealth and power are dangerous. Those who have them are at a disadvantage in terms of living a happy and holy life. Period. Plain talk. It is harder to be a good Christian if you are rich.
It can be done. The number of Saints who were nobles in previous centuries and the multitude of exemplary affluent Christians in our day are proof of it. But the rich who are authentically religious are so in spite of their wealth. And they have to hold their assets lightly. If they don’t take special precautions they will be brought down by the oldest temptation on earth: the desire to rise high, not in the eyes of God, but by the standards of this world.
In Ezekiel 28:1-10 God says to the prince of Tyre: “By your great wisdom in trade you have increased your wealth, and your heart has become proud in your wealth.” St. Ignatius of Loyola teaches — and it may be his greatest insight into the spiritual life, outstanding for its practical conciseness — that the strategy of the devil is very simple: tempt people to two things not evil in themselves — riches and honors — in order to set them up for what we might call “evil itself”: the sin of sins, pride. Jesus calls people to poverty (which is not a good in itself), because poverty predictably entails humiliations — also not good in themselves — and these foster humility, which is the root of all good.1
The problem is not so much in being rich as in the danger that this will make us proud — so proud we forget our dependence on God.
Nothing could be simpler and more ignored in our society. In Matthew 19:23-30 Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Who believes that? Who acts on it? Be serious!
Isn’t it taken for granted in our culture that to try to be affluent is the normal thing to do? Has mass demand for a simple lifestyle raised the price of middle-class housing over that of the affluent suburbs? Don’t “normal” Christian parents try to give their children the kind of education that will enable them to earn as much or more than they themselves do? Or at least to avoid the horror of “minimum wage”? Don’t we teach children in Christian homes and schools — not overtly, but very effectively — to “fit in” with those strata of society whose acceptance facilitates employment, promotion and financial success? We need to re-think how we minister to each other. Are we dealing death or giving life?
Jesus said that those who convert to his way “will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.” They will experience God.
Initiative: Give God’s life: Be a “priest in the Priest.” Mediate life to others by living and speaking the truth.
1Spiritual Exercises: “Two Standards”