The Gospel presents why anyone who is materially rich to himself will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus had on many an occasion, categorically declared that ‘the rich’ will have a tough time finding God, the eternal Truth. All those parables with central characters of rich and the famous never find favor with Jesus to the extent that He even refuses to mention the rich and the mighty with a name…! He simply says ‘a rich man’, but the poor fellow lying at the rich man’s gate has a name…a face that Jesus readily recognizes as Lazarus.
The rich ruler who went up to Jesus and asked Him whether there was anything else he should do to attain the Kingdom of God, got a prompt reply, “you still lack one thing, sell everything you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me” (Lk. 18: 18 – 29). The Gospel says; the rich man left Jesus with a heavy heart, as he could not part with his fortune. For him the Kingdom of Heaven looked too small in stark contrast with the vast empire he owned.
A little later, in the Gospel of St. Luke we find the miraculous transformation of the ruthless tax collector, Zaccheus after Jesus entered his home. We find an excited Zaccheus announcing a rather shocking declaration in front of Jesus. “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Lk.19:1-9).
How was that while the rich guy, who could not even think of selling his possessions and giving them to the poor, Zaccheus a notorious and ruthless tax collector could empty himself for Jesus probably in a matter of couple of hours? Remember, the rich ruler was not all a bad guy; rather he was a ‘good and decent gentleman’ of his time who apparently in full faith had been practicing the Commandments, that too from his childhood days. Even Jesus agrees that he lacks only one thing. Where as our hero, Zaccheus was corrupt to the core, a man even the society looked upon with contempt! What transpired during the meeting between Jesus and Zaccheus is shrouded in mystery! Luke is eloquently silent on what really happened in that short span of time while Jesus and his starving team of disciples probably were enjoying a rare and hearty meal!
It also is a bit strange that, Jesus, the chief guest of the occasion, never uttered a word of appreciation until Zaccheus made his announcement. But the response from the Lord was instantaneous, once the declaration was made; responding, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Lk.19:9-10). Jesus says the whole family is saved by the great sacrifice offered by the head of the family, Zaccheus. But then the declaration by Zaccheus, ensured a clean sweep of the entire fortune of his worldly holdings, reducing him to absolute zero as far his financial credibility and social acceptance are concerned! Where did he get the courage to disown his every savings for a man whom he had not met before and have had only very little knowledge? The onlookers would have been thoroughly baffled by the stupidity of his action, as we also would react very often!
But something deep within his soul, Zaccheus felt a transformation taking place which he himself could not decline…rather resist…! His decision came very swift…even without his being fully aware of what is happening around…and what could be the implications! He only knew that he need not have the worldly possessions but cannot afford to go on without the Lord who relieved him from his bondages.
In the case of the Rich Ruler, the events had a different complexion altogether. We find the Rich Ruler an enthusiastic seeker of the Kingdom of God. But his enthusiasm decelerates into a total withdrawal when he is told that he has a ‘heavy baggage’ which he needs to dispose off before he could enter the gates of eternal salvation.
‘The rich and the famous’ story in Luke 16:19-31, is another example where Jesus points his accusing finger on the rich. Jesus refuses to give a name to the rich man. We may feel that the rich man did not do anything really wrong. In fact, he even allowed the beggar Lazarus to be at his gate, which many of us would have not dared to do knowing well that he was a Leper, allowed him to pick up the bits and pieces of wasted food from the dining table of his durbar..! The rich man allowed Lazarus as much comfort as possible at his gate. He never chased him out but occasionally fed him even while his dogs were licking his sores! It is only natural that the funeral of Lazarus would have been fully sponsored by the rich man, which would have given him an even better image in the public eye.
Yet again Jesus sends out a strong warning to the rich and the mighty in St.Luke12:13 – 21, calling the rich man, ‘a fool!’ In fact, Jesus had as his friends quite a few people who were rich and famous. Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, the man who was raised from the dead by the Lord, who it seems had inherited and owned a huge fortune, was one of Jesus’ close friends. The Joseph of Arimathea was also very rich and influential but his heart was very close to Jesus. He used his influence to get permission from Pontius Pilate, to remove Jesus’ body from the Cross and then went on to donate his new grave for the Son of God.
Jesus disapproved attachments to worldly belongings which distanced man from God, his creator. He knew, money, ‘Mammon’ is the root cause for all evils. In Luke 12: 15, Jesus made it amply clear “Then he said to them; watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus knew very well that wealth makes a man blind to the love of God and to the love towards his fellow men. This is because the rich feel that they do not need anybody, not even God… because they replace God by money, fame, beauty etc., in short by ‘Mammon’. And then you cannot worship both Mammon and God together!
When Zaccheus made his intentions public, he was cutting loose the attachments to his riches. Jesus saw that moment of release from the clutches of slavery to the ‘Mammon ‘and declared him a winner.
If we could join with our whole heart prophet Habakkuk to pray without even feeling an iota of doubt or fear, “Though the fig trees does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails, and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in God, my savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights!” (Habbakkuk 3:17- 19).
– – – written by Jose Mattappallil