“Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”
The Old and New Testaments are full of warnings directed at the rich, powerful and wicked; the divine authors generally assume that the rich and power are, with few exceptions, wicked.
Today’s reader might find vindication for the "Occupy" protest against the ever-widening gap between the rich and poor in these passages. Aware of that widening gap, I have to take a long, slow breath before I let the instincts of my working class background take control.
The word gospel means good news; that doesn’t necessarily mean bad news for some. It means good news for everyone willing to receive it. We have only to cling to our faith.
That promise can be fleshed out with images of pearly gates, streets of gold and angelic harps. Or you might prefer a south Pacific sea island, an Italian villa, or an endless family reunion. For those who have suffered much abuse, the scriptures promise fire and brimstone against their oppressors. Justice demands punishment for the wicked and reward for the righteous. We hear these promises of vindication in the scriptures.
Like anyone else, I have occasionally been angry and wished that God would punish my personal enemies. I got over it; in some cases it took a while. Under the influence of healing grace I could look on these people and their behavior with understanding.
My fear today is for those who fail to accept the opportunity of grace. Some wealthy people live in constant dread of losing even a small part of their wealth. Some privileged people react angrily at the slightest impingement of their perks. They seem to live in a house of cards and fear even a breath of change.
We have a chapel in our VA hospital and, like most chapels in most hospitals, it was designed for Christians. The planners never considered that Jews or Muslims or Native Americans might want to use the space, or that they have the right to. Fifty years later, when slight accommodations are made for those minorities, some Christians howl in protest; “They’re taking over! There’s a war on Christians!”
My fear is for those anxious persons who cannot make sacrifice for the sake of others. They ignore innumerable invitations like the fools in Jesus’ parable. They have bought a wife and married a cow and cannot come to the wedding. They react like animals that cannot imagine the consequences of their behavior; they see only immediate gain and loss. Saint Paul said of them, “Their gods are their bellies.”
A person -- that human being who transcends animal nature and engages other persons -- considers long term consequences. Real persons ponder the past, the present and the future. They know that not all consequences are foreseeable and leave room for grace. They do not pretend to penetrate every mystery; they allow God to guide them.
The wicked -- wealthy or poor -- are little better than animals, and they must suffer the same indifferent fate. The scriptures do not promise resurrection to every shark, boar and crocodile that roams the Earth. The redeemed are those who accept the invitation of the Holy Spirit. By habitual sacrifice in communion with others, giving and receiving according to their needs and abilities, they attain the fullness of their human nature and eternal life.