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July 1979

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God' (Matt. 19:24)

Perhaps you knew him. He was called Eletto. He was a young man, tall, handsome, intelligent and rich. When he heard the call of God to follow him, he did not hesitate for a moment. He never once looked back. It seemed as though riches had no meaning for him at all. He gave away everything. While showing his love by taking a young boy on an outing he drowned in a lake, aged only thirty-three.

A memorial stone by the lake commemorates this act, and upon it is inscribed his own words, 'I have chosen God alone and absolutely nothing else'.

When Eletto appears before Jesus he will certainly not hear him repeat these words:

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

And you, are you rich? Does this text make any impression on you?

I think you are right to be perplexed and to think about the proper course for you to follow. Jesus never said anything simply for the sake of saying it. It is therefore necessary to take these words seriously, rather than try to explain them away.

But let us seek to understand the true sense of the words from the way in which Jesus relates himself to the rich. He spent time with people who were well off. To Zacchaeus, who gave away only half of his goods, he said, 'Salvation has come to this house'.

The Acts of the Apostles bears witness to the fact that in the early church the sharing of one's goods was quite voluntary and therefore the actual renunciation of all that one possessed was not required.

Jesus did not then have in mind to found a community of people, all like Eletto, called to follow him and leaving all riches behind.

And yet, he said:

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

What then is Jesus condemning? Certainly not the good things of this world in themselves, but the attachment of the rich man to them.

And why? Because all things belong to God, but the rich man conducts himself as though the riches were his instead.

In fact riches can easily take over the place in the human heart which belongs to God, blinding us and facilitating every kind of vice. The Apostle Paul wrote, 'Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs' (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

Plato had already said it, 'It is impossible for a man to be extraordinarily good if he is at the same time extraordinarily rich'.

What then should be the attitude of one who has possessions?

It is necessary for him to have a free heart, totally open to God. He should think of himself as the administrator of his goods, and he should know, as Pope John Paul II has said, that he carries the burden of a social responsibility. The good things of this world are not an evil in themselves, so they should not be despised, but used well.

Not the hand, but the heart must stay far from them. It is a question of knowing how to use them for the good of others.

Whoever is rich is rich for others.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

But perhaps you will say, 'I am not really rich, therefore these words do not apply to me'. Be careful! The question which the amazed disciples put to Christ immediately after this statement of his was, 'Who then can be saved?' That tells us clearly that these words were directed in some sense to all.

Even one who has left all to follow Christ can have his heart attached to many things. Even a poor man who curses when anyone touches his bundle can be considered a rich man before God.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

Chiara Lubich

 

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