In Jesus’ time, many people believed that material wealth was a sign of God’s favor . . . a misconception that can still be seen today in “prosperity gospel” preachers and the general cult of celebrity worship. But Jesus is clear: “It will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23).
Just before saying this, Jesus had called the rich young man to give all his wealth to the poor and follow Him (Matthew 19:16-22). Are we each called to do the same? Interestingly, it would seem not. Jesus had disciples who were wealthy and hadn’t been called to renounce that wealth such as the women who provided for the material needs of Jesus and the Apostles (Luke 8:3), or Joseph of Arimathea who is described as “rich” and provided Jesus’ tomb and embalming spices (Matthew 27:57) among others.
The key is in our attachment to wealth and material goods. We cannot fall into the trap of loving, worshiping even, our possessions and the idea of wealth. This makes loving and worshiping God impossible. (See Matthew 6:24.) Jesus tells us in the beatitudes that we must be “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) to inherit the kingdom of heaven.
Maybe it was attendance at too many pep rallies in my youth, but I used to misunderstand the emphasis on this phrase, thinking Jesus was saying we were to be dejected or lacking in spiritedness. But, of course, it’s just the opposite. A true Christian always has “spirit” (yes, we do). But it’s that we are called to be POOR in our hearts, whether or not we are poor in fact.
How can we be good stewards of the gifts God has given us (be they wealth, talent, whatever) and use them generously to help Jesus and our fellow man? How can we practice detachment, valuing those gifts, but not finding OUR value in them?
It’s as easy as riding a camel through the eye of a needle, which, fortunately, is more doable than it sounds . . . when we have help: “for God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Let's pray for our hearts to be more like Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, our feast day celebrated today, who gave his zeal to help protect and grow the Faith.
Kendra Tierney is a forty-two-year-old mother of nine and wife of one living in and working on a big old fixer-upper house in Los Angeles. She's a homeschooler and a regular schooler and is relishing the new freedom from carpooling that's come with a seventeen-year-old in the house. Her newest book, The Catholic All Year Compendium, Liturgical Living for Real Life, is here. You can find her first book, A Little Book About Confession, here, her blog here, and her word art here. She is a contributing author to our Works of Mercy Study: Misericordia.