Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Will Rationalizations Fit through the Eye of a Needle?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Will Rationalizations Fit through the Eye of a Needle?

Article excerpt

"He was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him, and put this question to him, `Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' Jesus said to him, `You know the commandments: you must not kill; you must not commit adultery; you must not steal; you must not bring false witness; you must not defraud; honor your father and mother.' And he said to him, `Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days.' Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, `There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow me.' But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth" (Mark 10:17-22).

Ever since my earliest days I have known that Jesus really had a hang-up about money. His attitude is hard to miss because money and wealth keep cropping up in the gospels, and every time Jesus goes out of his way to make people feel uncomfortable. Take this man who was obviously sincere about inheriting eternal life. Jesus doesn't recommend that he share some of his wealth with the poor. No, it's all or nothing with Jesus: give it all away--everything! I could hardly blame the man for walking away. Couldn't Jesus have been a little more gradual about all of this? Couldn't we have some distinctions here?

And there's Jesus' comment about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. He never says: Blessed are you relatively comfortable folk who nevertheless act in a socially responsible way. It's always: Blessed are the poor! Blessed those who lend and don't even try to get it back! Blessed the widow who gives away her last penny!

Why this unrelenting hostility toward money? What did Jesus, with his amazing insight, know that we don't? What was he trying to tell us?

I bring this up because it seems lately that the acquisition and preservation of wealth has become not just the most important thing in our society but the only thing. Reading an airline magazine on a flight to St. Louis, I was deluged with ads for books and tapes that can increase my wealth overnight:

"High-tech research means high income."

"Surf the Web to financial freedom."

"Turn the world into your market."

Every page, it seemed, contained advice on how to keep the bucks rolling in: Through "Mega Speed Reading," "Advanced Mega Memory," and "Mega Math," I could maximize my daily earning power. And by discovering the secrets of "Global Wealth Building," I could squirrel my earnings away on offshore, tax-free havens in the Bahamas or the Cayman Islands, maybe even Aruba.

In a bookstore, I came upon a big seller: Frozen Desire: The Meaning of Money, in which author James Buchan traces his family genealogy back through many generations to learn the thread, "frayed to a single twist," that connects him with all those who have gone before in this "muddle of time." The thread, he discovers, is money, and he argues that it's really the only thread that connects all families, rich or poor, happy or unhappy. The bottom line is always money.

A writer in The New Yorker magazine discusses million-dollar bonuses on Wall Street and the "teen millions" people are paying for condos on Fifth Avenue or overlooking Central Park. He laments "how very hard it is" for moderately rich persons like himself to maintain their "identity" in the face of such vast wealth. An associate of the writer with $10 million in investments confesses at a party that he feels "poor."

In a recent, hour-long ABC network news special, John Stossel celebrated the goodness of "Greed." He showed how it creates wealth, enhances the economy, and gives people a deep sense of satisfaction. Labor unions took a hit for nitpicking about top executives' astronomical salaries. In fact, argued Stossel, it's just such incentives that spur CEOs like Michael Eisner of Disney (owner of ABC) to increase the company's net worth by billions and billions. …

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