INTRODUCTION: The African hunters have a clever way of trapping monkeys. They slice the coconut in two and in one half of the shell cut a hole just big enough for a monkey’s hand to pass through. They place an orange in the other half and then fasten together the two halves. When the unsuspecting monkey swings by and smells the orange, it slips its hand through the small hole, grasps the orange and tries to pull it through the hole. The orange is too big for the hole. The persistent monkey continues to pull and pull never realizing the danger it is in. As long as the monkey keeps its fist wrapped around the orange, the monkey is trapped. The only way the monkey can save its life is to let go of the orange and flee.
GOSPEL: The Gospel narrative tells us about a rich man enthusiastically telling Jesus, the Good Teacher, that he has observed all the commandments from his youth. Jesus, looking at him, loved him. It is more than admiration, respect or sentimentality. It is a gut-wrenching concern one has for a loved one about to take his own life. All that is important in a moment like that is to get the gun out of his hands and help him discover a reason to live. (It is as if you tell the monkey to let go of the orange if you want to be free.) “You lack one thing; go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor and you will have treasures in heaven; then come and follow me.” Wholehearted discipleship cannot take place until the ties to the man’s possessions are broken, ties so intense and so enslaving that he can only hang his head and walk away. Possessions have a peculiar and insidious way of becoming our masters. Precisely because they hold the potential for good and evil, they easily seduce us and make us their slaves.
Jesus, in speaking to the disciples, is frank about the unusual difficulty facing a rich person who wants to live faithfully under the reign of God. The statement that it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eyes than for a rich man to enter the kingdom in fact expresses a total impossibility. The disciples, no doubt thinking that riches are material signs of God’s blessing (a notion occasionally expressed in Jewish literature and certainly alive and well in Western Christianity) are thoroughly perplexed by what they hear, and ask in exasperation, “Who can be saved?” Jesus replies, “In God all things are possible.”
WORD: Today we are facing the crisis of prosperity. Compared to most humans in this planet, most of us are comfortable, secure and quite healthy, amazingly so. The worldview that formed us in the last forty years is one where there is no limit to our growth, our achievements as well as the earth’s resources. (Unlimited calls and unlimited texts.) Things which have been luxuries for kings have become commonplace. In our globalized economy, every luxury is available locally, nearby. We can shop online. Easy availability soon becomes expectation, then eventually habituation and finally entitlement. Wasn’t life always this way? Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? We created a prosperity gospel, a religion of limousine liberals who see no conflict between the Gospel and amassing huge personal fortunes for their private lifestyles. Splurge and indulge. Savor every second of your stay in this planet. In the last forty years, it has become easy to get rich easily. Whereas before, human history has connected money with actual work, effort and sacrifice or productivity; then for the first time in history money becomes associated with money – money earning money without any effort at all. A case of financial incest. The making of money is in itself the work and even the most admired and envied work.
The reason behind why spiritual traditions in general and the Gospel in particular are against owning material possessions is that because it gives a false sense of security, alienating us from our spiritual origins. When we accumulate wealth and possessions, we relieve our basic anxiety. When the barn is full, a sense of safety replaces fear. Storing up things in the present make us feel that the future is protected. The larger the accumulation, the greater the sense of safety. It won’t be long before our false sense of security is assured. We then alienate ourselves from our neighbors whom we consider a threat to this wealth. The need for feeling safe makes the idea of sharing ludicrous. The drive to assuage insecurity can be ruthless. It pushes people into self-centered behaviors that they in turn commit injustices. Even more, they tolerate any injustice as long as it benefits them.
Possessions make us self-sufficient and forgetful of our calling to live in community, sharing and solidarity. There is in each of us a streak of greed and covetousness. Our greed is intimately linked with our lack of love. We surround ourselves with all kinds of gadgets and accessories to compensate for our lack of self-esteem. We make sure our pendants are heavier than our necks, our earrings larger than our ears. We buy the affections of our loved ones and spend a fortune for pleasure. But the more we satisfy our material cravings, the more we are starved for love; the more alienated we become in a world of relationships.