Does Your Wealth Own You?
The calendar year (January through December) is also the fiscal year for most businesses and corporations. It?s the same for all of us when it comes to taxes and the government. Soon we will calculate our income and our expenses. We will calculate our wealth by examining our assets and liabilities. On the top of our tax forms it has our name and we sign at the bottom before we submit it. Our name also appears on the top of our deed to our home and the title to our car. After we pay-off the mortgage or loan, we receive this piece of paper and the home and car is ours. It?s mine!
However, there is a different name that should appear on our deeds, titles, warranties and any other piece of paper relating to our possessions. What is that name? It should say ?God and Father? or ?Our Lord Jesus Christ?. Why? Because, truly, we do not own anything in this life. We are just stewards and caretakers of our possessions. Everything we have belongs to God. From this perspective, we can better understand today?s Gospel passage about the Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:18-27).
Jesus tells the young man, who had asked Him how to inherit eternal life, to sell all that he had and give to the poor (v.22). This is merely a fulfillment of the Parables of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13) and the Vineyard Owner (Mark 12 & Luke 20) where the master gives possessions or land to his servants in order to manage them wisely and then returns later to collect the possessions and the profits. In this case, the rich young ruler is now asked to give an account of the wealth entrusted to him. When Jesus says, there?s one thing you still lack? (v.22), the implication is that the young man should have already given to the poor. It?s as if Jesus is giving him one more chance to be a proper steward.
When Jesus died on the Cross and rose from the dead, He paid the ransom of Himself to purchase us from the bondage of sin and death. It?s like one slave owner buying slaves from another. Yet, once Christ bought us, he set us free. If we are to be His slave, then it must be a voluntary submission. If we have been baptized and chrismated into Christ?s Church, if we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in communion, if we call ourselves Christians, then we have signed over all our wealth and possessions to our new Lord and Master. A better way to say this is we?ve returned them, including ourselves, to their rightful and true owner.
As a further motivation to give, remember that Jesus gave his all to save us. For each of us He gave His life. Because he gave up His life for us, He demands we give our lives for each other. If we owe our very lives to our brothers, shall we hoard our wealth and keep it away from them? Shall we keep things away from each other only to have those things burn at the end of the world? No, no! If we do not love our brothers, we are children of the devil and heading for the flames ourselves. But the true Christian loves his brothers! Love seeks not her own, but is diffused on the brother. About the brother love is fluttered, about him she is soberly insane! And as Paul tells us, love is the only thing that lasts. St. Clement of Alexandria
If we become sad, angry, bitter, defensive or uncomfortable when we hear the message of today?s gospel or anything similar, then we have not yet relinquished our control and attachment to our worldly possessions. Said in another way, we are still owned by our wealth.
A possession ought not to belong to the possessor, not the possessor to the possession. Whosoever, therefore, does not use his patrimony as a possession, who does not know how to give and distribute to the poor, he is the servant of his wealth, not its master; because like a servant he watches over the wealth of another and not like a master does he use it on his own. Hence, in a disposition of this kind we say that the man belongs to his riches, not the riches to the man. St. Ambrose
I will conclude with an alternative example to the rich young ruler. This is the Poor Widow in Mark 12 and Luke 21.
1And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, 2and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. 3So He said, ?Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; 4for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.? (Luke 21:1-4)
The widow did not have much but she gave it all to God in the temple. Her offering, even though a mite is an equivalent to a penny, was generous and sacrificial. It is of more value than perhaps the hundreds or thousands of dollars given by some in our age of prosperity. We should not make the same mistake as some who pervert this story to say that Christ values any two cents offering. Jesus only values what is generous and sacrificial. He does not need our money to accomplish His work and will. We need to give our money to the poor and the Church to allow His will to be done in our life. We need to give to return the wealth to its proper owner. We need to give in order not to be owned by the wealth. This will make it easier for us to pass through the eye of a needle and enter the kingdom of God and inherit eternal life. Amen.