December 2005 - Volume 10, Issue 5

Jesus And The Rich

Msgr. Frank C. Wissel, D.Min.

One of the most delightful scenes in. "Fiddler on the Roof begins with Tevye talking to God. He says, "Oh dear Lord, you made many, many poor people. I realize, of course, it is no shame to be poor, but it's not a great honor either. So what would have been so terrible if I had made a small fortune?"


Then he begins to sing and dance his dream of how life would be "if I were a rich man" - the house he would build, the clothes his wife would wear, and the respect he would have in the community.

I would dare say that, at one time or another, every one of us has dreamed the same dream. We have thoughts about how nice it would be to never worry about paying the bills. It is a lovely dream, but we should keep in mind that money has its own category of problems.

There's a Gospel reading where the Lord says, "It is easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." We know that Jesus was a poor man. We also know that he spoke to many people who had many possessions.

One might think that a poor man would be envious of a rich man, but not in this case. Here, the traditional roles were reversed. The rich man envied the poor man's quality of life, arid wanted to know how he could share in it. When he learned the price, it was more than he was willing to pay; and he went away very sad.

The Lord's disciples were shocked by that statement: "How hard it is (for the rich) to enter the kingdom of God." We have often spoken of poverty and what it can do to the human spirit. That is a legitimate emphasis, a note that must be sounded over again. But we should also remember what the Lord said about the perils of prosperity.

You and I do not think of ourselves as being rich, but most of us would like to be. We live in a culture that is utterly obsessed with the material side6f life. For many, the word "success" has come to mean only one thing money. The Lord was deeply concerned about the impact of prosperity on the human spirit. Why did he feel that way? What was it about money the love of it and the desire for it that caused such deep concern in the compassionate heart of Christ?

For one thing, he knew that prosperity could create an illusion and keep us from seeing ourselves as we really are. A person with money has standing, station and rank in the community. He/she is treated with deference. They can require and receive special concessions. The person who can pay cash gets a better price and usually a warmer reception than the person who must wait for his credit application to be approved. Almost invariably, the person will be tempted to see him or herself in terms of that favored treatment. A voice somewhere on the inside will suggest that the person is a bit above the common herd. When all the while, that prosperity may be only a window dressing, which says nothing about the kind of person they are.

Piggy Bank

Prosperity can create an illusion that results in our not really seeing who we are. It can convince us that we are a special breed deserving special consideration, when in reality we are nothing more than people who just happen to have a little money.

In addition, prosperity can keep us from seeing the world as it really is. Most of us find ourselves in a position where we're not rich, but comfortable. Do we ever have the courage or make the effort to go beyond our wall of comfort? The really good thing about having much is to experience the joy of sharing it with those who have so little. We must remember that "giving" is "getting."