Damnin’ mammon

But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “You dumbasses.  I didn’t say it was impossible.  Did I say it was impossible?”  (Mark 10:24-27, 21st Century Gen-X Paraphrase edition)

In the wake of the Occupy phenomenon and having read Newt Gingrich’s, er, “analysis” of the plight of the poor this morning, I decided it was time to share some thoughts on one of the New Testament’s trickiest passages (see above.)

Mark 10:24-27 is echoed in Luke 16:13 (“You cannot love God and money”) and in Paul’s first epistle to Timothy, where he famously says, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” (I Timothy 6:10)  Even the author of Ecclesiastes weighs in with, “Whoever loves money never has enough.  Whoever loves wealth is never satisfied.  This too is meaningless.”  (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

Many people look at these sentiments as indictments of rich people.  Others take the message to mean that rich people aren’t the problem; rather, wealth is the problem.  I say, you can’t have rich people without wealth, so the latter argument never made much sense to me.   I also can’t get behind the first argument.  Jesus and Paul had wealthy friends and disciples.  And by popular tradition, the author of Ecclesiastes was none other than King Solomon.  They don’t get any richer than that.

IMHO, Jesus, Paul, and Mister Whoever-He-Was author of Ecclesiastes aren’t talking about wealth at all, at least not literally.  Paul never said that money is the root of all evil.  He said, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”  Biblical thinkers didn’t bash wealth – they bashed the misplaced priorities of some wealthy people.   What they’re talking about is idolatry. 

Wealth is just a thing.  Its value is reckoned by human beings, which means it bears no intrinsic moral currency of its own.  It’s a wooden statue overlain with gold.  It’s lifeless, without breath.  What gives it “life” is how we respond to it. 

If the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, what does that say about its mirror image: contempt for the moneyless?  Same thing, I’m guessing.  If Jesus didn’t love the poor, we’d be hard-pressed to say he loved anyone.  Do we ever see him getting angry or even impatient with a poor person, a sick person, a suffering person?  I’m no Biblical scholar, but the only people I can remember him flipping out on are scribes and Pharisees (over the disconnect between their espoused moral superiority and their crappy treatment of other people) and the moneychangers in the temple (for turning Judaism into a profit-making enterprise.)  Poor people – prostitutes, adulterers, tax-collectors, demoniacs, the sick and injured, and yes, Mr. Gingrich, the working poor like farmers, carpenters, and fishermen  –  were never on Jesus’ s**t list.

So, what does this mean for people of means?  First of all, the two commandments Jesus cited as most important were all about cultivating loving relationships: love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul, and all your strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.  We need to actively apply ourselves to practicing these; and they are hard standards to live by because they don’t come naturally to us.  The first is a challenge because, let’s face it, God’s hard to love.  (I’ll be blogging on this very topic next week.)  And loving our neighbor?  Most of us can barely stand our friends and families, let alone the guy across the street who fires up his weed-eater at 7:00 on Sunday mornings.  And if we can’t love the people we know, how are we supposed to love people we a) know nothing about (common ignorance spectacularly modeled by Pat Robertson last week) or b) think we know something about, and whatever it is we think we know, it’s BAD (venomous ignorance spectacularly modeled by our former Speak of the House earlier this week.)

I think this means acknowledging that, spiritually speaking, EVERYBODY is our neighbor and day-by-day doing our doggonedest unto them as we’d have them do unto us.

Second, I think we need to stop thinking of ourselves as the 99%.  Taken from a global point of view, I’d be willing to wager that most of the people reading this blog – just like the one writing it – are part of the 1%.  If we can rely on potable, running water; if there’s reliable trash pickup in our neighborhood; if the lights generally come on when we flip a switch; and we’re not digging through dumpsters for whatever the squirrels rejected for dinner, we are among the people Jesus addressed with his “camel-through-a-needle” spiel.

But there’s hope.  Because although these things may be impossible for mere mortals, God works in mysterious ways and not all of them involve supernatural miracles.   I think a camel CAN go through the eye of a needle if any one of the following three conditions is met: 

  1. The camel is very small 
  2. The needle is hella big
  3. The camel is liquefied in a blender and fed through the eye of the needle with a very small syringe

Maybe, though, we should also pray for some miracles.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2011


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