Scripture is filled with beautiful words of God’s love for the poor, how the Lord hears the cry of the poor, and those who give aid to the poor will be blessed by God. Scripture also has many examples of the rich, but most of these examples don’t paint the wealthy in such a warm light.
From the rich young man who went away sad after Jesus told him to sell all he had, to the rich man whose large temple offering was surpassed by the widow’s mite, Scripture shows that God is unconcerned about our bank accounts and more concerned about our souls.
But is being wealthy a barrier to holiness? Recently, on The Patrick Madrid Show, Patrick responded to a listener seeking an explanation of the Church’s teaching on wealth, and who wondered whether being wealthy was a bad thing in and of itself. Patrick responded:
“Wealth itself is not evil. Money itself is not evil. St. Paul reminds us that it’s the love of money that is the root of all evil. Avarice, which is one of the seven deadly sins, is another way of talking about greed. And the problem with this sin is that it turns money into a false god. It turns money into the focal point of your life, what you’re really after more than anything else.
And when that happens, you’re no longer worshipping the one, true God, you’re worshipping your 401k or your checking account. You’re worshipping however it is that you make that money. So I believe that the answer lies with that recognition that it’s not wealth that is evil, it’s what we do with that wealth.
Passing Through the Eye of a Needle
When Jesus warns that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, there are a couple of ways to understand that passage. The first one would be if you’re thinking about a sewing needle and the little eye, the little hole where the thread goes through, if we look at it from that standpoint, Jesus is actually making a very important statement – that it is essentially impossible. Now, He doesn’t mean that it is absolutely impossible, but He’s using hyperbole as a way to make a point. Because there is no way you can fit a real camel through the eye of a needle.
It’s also true that in these ancient, walled cities you wanted to keep the big gates closed, especially at night so that invading armies couldn’t come in and take over the city. So they also had these openings in the walls every so often, and that would be enough for one person to come and go. You probably had to turn sideways, and you definitely couldn’t have all kinds of armor and weapons and things like that, because you couldn’t get through it. So you would have to put all these things down to pass through this eye of the needle.
And that way of looking at it is helpful, I think, because you can see that it can be done, but in order to pass through, you need to lay down all of these other things that you might otherwise want to take with you. And that could be symbolic of wealth.
It’s Not What You Have, It’s What You Do With It
So, in the final analysis, God Himself blesses certain people with wealth. He blesses certain people with poverty. He blesses certain people with just enough to make ends meet, and not a whole lot more. But, in His blessing, the key is what you do with it.
So, it would be dangerous for a wealthy person who has put all of his trust in his money and he thinks he has no need for God anymore because he has money to do everything that he wants. He has the best clothing, the best food, the choicest wines, he can live in the best house, he has the best medical attention, he can pay for anything he wants. It’s very easy to slip into that mindset of, ‘Well I guess I don’t really need God because I’ve got it all covered.’ And that, of course, is so deeply, deeply not true.
On the other hand, take a look at somebody who is very poor. That can also be dangerous because of bitterness. There can be people who become wrathful and bitter that they don’t have what somebody else has.
It’s not as though it’s only the rich people who have to worry, because we all have to worry. We can all wind up corrupting the situation that we’re in, or the blessing that God has given us, unless we accept it for what it is and do what we can to make good use of it.
… There are people who are given a certain amount of prosperity, a certain amount of money, or that sort of thing. The important part is what you do with it. Does it become a false god? Or does is become a means to an end – helping the poor, clothing the naked, that sort of thing?
Just think, if you didn’t have any money you couldn’t do those things. If you didn’t have any money you couldn’t support causes that are important to you and important to the Lord. So it’s a balancing act, just like anything else.
The Golden Mean
I’ll leave you with this final thought. St. Thomas Aquinas – a brilliant mind, and he seemed to see everything so clearly – he pointed out over and over again what is called the ‘golden mean.’ The golden mean is that golden, middle, sweet spot where you avoid problems in the one direction of excess, and you also avoid problems in the other direction of defect or lack of something. It’s that golden mean that we should be striving for, whether you have a lot of money or you don’t have a lot of money. Be seeking to do the best you can with what you’ve been given and it’s going to be OK.
Listen to the full reflection below:
The Patrick Madrid Show airs weekdays from 6:00 – 9:00 a.m. Pacific.