Archive for category Riches

Luke 19:1-10 Zacchaeus, the Chief Tax Collector and a Wealthy Man

The salvation of any is so very difficult (even the righteous scarcely are saved) while the salvation of the rich is seemingly impossible (Mt 19:24). Jesus explicitly teaches that the salvation of a rich man is so extremely difficult, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” (Mt 19:24).  Much more it such a rich man is a tax collector despised by the Jews as traitor and thief.  

Although it is a seeming impossibility for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, with God’s initiative and gift of salvation and man’s cooperation his salvation becomes possible. Indeed, with God what seems impossible becomes possible. 

In today’s gospel narrative, we heard a story about Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector of a wealthy city of Jericho, center of commerce and exporter date palms and balsam. The story of Zacchaeus, is a story of a rich man who finds salvation. As Ryle noted, “Here we see the camel passing through the eye of the needle, and the rich man entering the kingdom of God” (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House), p. 290)! Although it seem impossible for the rich people to be saved (see Mt 19:24), God can save them. For with God’s grace nothing is impossible. Along with the grace and initiative of God in Christ to seek out and to save what was lost, what saved Zacchaeus from sin and isolation?

First, his humility.  He humbled himself in acknowledging his sinfulness before God to the point of seeking to see Jesus who will save him from slavery to sin and misery caused by sin whose nature is to separate us from God and from one another. Humility is the sure evidence of Christian virtues. Without it, we retain all our faults still, and they are only covered over with pride, which hides them from other men’s observation, and sometimes from our own too (François, Duc De La Rochefoucauld (1613–1680), French writer, moralist. repr. F.A. Stokes Co., New York (c. 1930). Moral Maxims and Reflections, no. 358 (1665-1678), trans. London (1706)).

Second, his joyful welcome of Jesus and his gift of salvation and his response of repentance. Interior repentance is a radical orientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our hearts, an end to sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of the spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of the heart) (Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1676-1678; 1705; cf. Roman Catechism, II, V, 4). 

“Penance requires…the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction” Roman Catechism II, V, 21; cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1673). “Penance is therefore a conversion that passes from the heart to deeds, and then to the Christian’s whole life” (RP, n. 4).

Third, his repentance led him to renewal of life in Christ. “Conversion is accomplished and manifested in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, just and equitable reparation of the damage and harm done to others, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right,[Cf. Am 5:24 ; Isa 1:17 .] by the admission of faults to one’s brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance’ (Cf. Lk 9:23 ).

St. Paul exhorts Christian who repented and converted to Christ:

“I declare and solemnly attest in the Lord that you must no longer live as pagans do – their minds empty, their understanding darkened. They are estranged from a life in God because of their ignorance and their resistance without remorse they have abandoned themselves to lust and the indulgence of every sort of lewd conduct. That is not what you learned when you learned Christ! I am supposing, of course, that he has been preached and taught to you in accord with the truth that is in Jesus: namely, that you must lay aside your former way of life and the old self which deteriorates through illusion and desire and acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking. You must put on that new man created in God’s image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth”  (Eph 4:17-24). 

It was not Zacchaeus’ giving money that saved him but his joyful reception of Jesus Christ and his invitation of salvation into his home and heart. Friends, Jesus has been knocking the door of our homes and hearts, be always ready in letting him in that you, like Zacchaeus, shall received the reward of Jesus: “Today salvation has come to this house…For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (Lk 19:10)

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Luke 12:13-21 Parable of the Rich Fool

So far as we are informed, the rich man mentioned in the scriptures who died while his barns were bulging with goods that he couldn’t use was not an evil man. Jesus didn’t say that he was dishonest, immoral, or lazy. The man was rich prior to the harvest, and the harvest simply increased his wealth. Certainly, he appears to have been very successful in his occupation. He must have been an intelligent and industrious worker to have accumulated such a great amount of wealth. The Lord didn’t call him a sinner; he merely said he was a fool.

Why such harsh condemnation? The man is a fool “because he has forgotten how the saying goes, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.‘  The saying applies strictly in his case; he will die during the night that begins the new day.  Therefore, his grand plans are worthless” (Tannehill, 206).

Was this not a provident man who had worked hard all his life, saved his money and invested wisely, and now deserved to retire in comfort? Where had he failed?

First, the rich failed to restrain his obsession for possession and wealth. In the story we are told that he was so obsessed to hoard more, to possess more and to acquire more not knowing that death awaits him and caught him by surprised and, therefore, he was unprepared for his untimely death. And that costs him his soul. Indeed “Greed never rests from the acquiring of more” (On Love of Wealth 1 [Mor. 523 E]; L. T. Johnson 1991:198) until death puts a stop to it.

Second, he had failed to recognize the principle of stewardship. In his eyes, they were his barns, his fruits, his goods. He had forgotten, if he ever knew, that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, that every material thing we possess is by His sufferance and only temporarily.

Possessions or wealth are stewardship, not to be hoarded selfishly but to be used to benefit those around us. Jesus is not saying possessions are bad, but that the selfish pursuit of them is pointless. When the creation is inverted, the value of possessions is distorted. Those who climb over people or ignore them in the pursuit of possessions will come up empty on the day God sorts out our lives. What a tragic misuse of the gift of resources this man had gained! What could have been an opportunity for generosity and blessing became a stumbling block to the soul.

Third, having forgotten that, it was only natural that his use of his wealth was so self-centered. The hint of his problem lies in the man’s use of the first-person pronoun.  Go through the parable and circle the words “I” and “my” to get a sense of the man’s self-absorption.  In his short conversation with himself, he uses the word “I” six times and the word “my” five times.  There is no thought of a bonus for his hired hands or a service project for his community.  There is no word of thanksgiving to God for this tremendous harvest.  Everything is “I” and “my.”

All of it was to go into his enlarged barn for his ease. One commentator writes, It is mischievous error with which he starts, “I have not where to bestow my fruits”; and St. Ambrose has answered well, “Thou HAST barns, – the bosoms of the needy, – the houses of the widows – the mouths of orphans and of infants.” (Richard C. Trench, op. cit., p. 341) There was no thought of sharing, no concern for the poor, no awareness of brotherhood.

What is this rich fool guilty of? He is guilty of greed or avarice which he greatly manifested by his self-absorption and obsession for possession and wealth. Greed, an inordinate desire for material things, is one of the seven deadly sins. An avaricious person offends against justice and charity and becomes insensitive to the needs of his neighbor, so keen is he on his self-aggrandizement. “If you are inclined to avarice,” say St Francis de Sales, “think of its folly: it makes us slaves to that which was intended to serve us. Remember how we must leave everything when we die; perhaps those who get our wealth then will only squander it, and even to their ruin” (“Introduction to the Devout Life”, 4, 10). To use of the words of St. Paul, he is guilty of the love of money which is the root of all evil  (see cf. 1 Tm 6:10).

Greed is an insidious trap that has the power to destroy those whose obsession for wealth and possession becomes the driving force of their lives. Greed is the devious, sinister, evil influence that makes people say, ‘What I have is not enough. I must have more. So that I will be more.’

Greed or avarice is the great cancer eating out the heart of mankind; and the Lord in his teaching here moved to lead men away from it. Human wants are insatiable; and getting only adds to the appetite for more. Paul associated it with moral uncleanness (Ephesians 4:19), calling it “idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). It is an evil that destroys man’s life here and hereafter.

Be on your guard and avoid every kind of greed, for even though you have many possessions, it is not that which gives you life.” What does it profit a man if gains the whole world and loses his soul? Hence, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt 6:33).

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Lk 16:19-31 The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

There is a popular misunderstanding about money or riches as the source of all evils. Because of this we tend to believe that the rich is bad and the poor is good. The rich is cursed and the poor is blessed. The rich is destined to hell while the poor to heaven. Hence, at all costs and by all means, money or wealth is to be avoided and stay economically poor and miserable as much as possible.

This appears to be a good news,  a consolation and hope to the poor. But this is not what the Gospel‘s parable teaches us today. Money in itself is not evil and does not make us evil. Rather it is the love of money that is the source of all evils. It is our selfishness, insensitivity, and inhumanity that are the sources of evil and make us bad. It is our being unfaithful, irresponsible and unfruitful stewards and failure to be “merciful just as our Father is merciful” (see Lk 6:36) that make us undeserving to receive the eternal life and happiness in heaven promised by God those who love Him and his people.

The moral lesson is this. Any person  (or rich) who distances himself  from the poor (Lazarus) in this life he will find himself in great torment and in a far distance from the poor who at the side of Abraham enjoying eternal bliss in the next life. And he will be prevented from joining them by great chasm made permanent by God. It is not God who condemns us to hell; it is we who condemn ourselves through a life of selfishness, insensitivity and inhumanity to the poor around us.

The parables asks : Will the five brothers, the readers as well the listeners follow the example of the rich man or heed Jesus’ teaching and that of the OT about care of the needy like Lazarus and thus be children of Abraham. If the brothers, the readers and the listeners do not follow that teaching, they will not have a place at the messianic banquet. Mere words do not make one a child of Abraham and therefore a member of reconstituted Israel. (see JBC 43:151:27) “Dives’ claim that Abraham is his father is of no effect, for he has not produced the deeds of loving kindness that would have signified repentance from his self-centered callous way of life (G. W. E. Nickelsburg, NTS 25 [1978-79] 338).

“My prayer is that your love may more and more abound, both in understanding and wealth of experience, so that with a clear conscience and blameless conduct you may learn to value the things that really matter” (Phil 1:9-10).

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