Does God Prevent Us from Becoming Rich?

11 October 2009. 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 7, 7-11; Psalm 90; Hebrew 4, 12-13; Mark 10, 17-30

The Gospel’s rich young man can become, in some ways, an icon of today’s youth. If you were born around the late 1990s to the present 2009, on the average you may be highly connected, having had lifelong use of communications and media technologies such as the internet, instant and text messaging, MP3 players, cellphones, social media and Youtube. Or even earlier, being born by parents from the late 1960s to 1990s, you probably grew up with the beginning of interconnectivity technology, had pagers and cellular phones, and started using the internet and emails. If you belong to these generations, the rich young man can speak to us in some specific way.

It is said that our young possesses a lot of gadgets, but despite the benefit of having to connect and communicate easier, this generation find in themselves a certain emptiness. The rich young man’s quest for fulfillment in his life, amidst the enormous wealth that he has, lead him to seek the wisdom of Jesus. The emptiness is like the isolation one experiences despite the ability of Friendster, Multiply or Facebook to connect with the people who matter and in the midst of gadgets that let you talk or communicate instantly, even seeing the person in another part of the world virtually talking to us on Skype or YM.

How did Jesus helped the young man find the answer to his emptiness? Jesus walked him through his search. He enumerated the commandments, and the young man said that he had observed them from his youth. And when Jesus finally challenged him to give everything that he has to the poor, his face fell. He couldn’t give everything. The fact is that Jesus never said a portion of it, or a part of his treasure; Jesus said all of it, everything including the people he has been attached to. Jesus was not asking us to “abandon our fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters” but to have an attitude of detachment from them. Often we are paralyzed when our world depends on the people and the things that we own. We cannot normally function when these people leave or die, or when things are destroyed. And one requires a spirituality to be able to let go.

Fr. Joaquin Bernas SJ defines spirituality as this: “By ‘spirituality’ I do not mean external piety such as novenas, lighted candles, pilgrimages, and crawling on bended knees in Quiapo church. By spirituality, rather, I mean a person’s governing world of meaning, his or her dominant worldview, how he or she relates not just with God, not just with men and women, but also with material wealth.” It means having the wisdom to know what matters to us, what values we lived by, what makes our lives meaningful. It means having the right relationship as regards to material wealth and to people around us. It means having the ability to be flexible than rigid; to be able to find an alternative way of praying when circumstance makes it impossible to perform the prayer we have been accustomed to do. To know Who is the locus of our life and everything else matters only in so far as we do not lose our gaze on God, then we have a spirituality. When we are able to acquire this wisdom through constant prayer, as the first reading tells us, we will be free from any inordinate attachments.

Does this mean that God does not want us to be rich; to have more achievements; to possess the perks of our hard work? Not at all. God wants us to have the correct way of regarding what we have; to have an “ordered” relationship than a “disordered” one. For example, if we have been true stewards of creation, not reckless users of created things, then we would not have experienced the effects of climate change.

We are challenged to look at everything that we own and achieved as borrowed. Mr. Onofre Pagsanghan said that “Everything is borrowed. My life is hiram. My life is borrowed. My talents are borrowed. Whatever I have is borrowed. And so I use it in the way that God wants me to use it. For as long as I can use it. And in the end, nothing is mine.” Whatever we possess or own is not from us, but for us to use according to God’s intent purpose. By having this worldview, we are able to follow Jesus. And when we lose everything in a flood, a calamity, a failed project or a bad investment, we do not lose hope because our lives are not attached to them but to God. The tragedy is when we “lose” our gaze on God. When we become “godless” we lose meaning and we slide again into emptiness.

On the other hand, when we hope, we gain the power to rebuild again. It is God who makes us courageous to give all of ourselves. This I think is the substance of Filipino resiliency. To those who believe in God, their hopes are not gashed by a great tragedy. And to those who have great faith, but are not victims, they take upon themselves the responsibility to give hope to those who have been rendered helpless. How? By donating not just material wealth, but themselves entirely.

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