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November 2009

(Original version July 1979)

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. (Mt 19:24)

Do you find this sentence striking?

I think you're right to be a bit bewildered and wonder what you should do. Jesus never spoke just for the sake of it. So we have to take these words seriously, without wanting to water them down.

Let's try to understand what they really mean from Jesus himself, from how he behaved towards the rich. He also mixed with well-off people. To Zacchaeus, who had given away only half of his possessions, he said, 'Today salvation has come to this house'.

Furthermore, the Acts of the Apostles show us that in the early Church the practice of holding goods in common was done freely, so that materially renouncing all one's possessions was not compulsory.

Jesus therefore didn't think of founding only a community of people called to follow him by ... leaving behind all their wealth.

And yet he says:

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.

So what is Jesus condemning? Certainly not the goods of this earth in themselves, but the rich person who is attached to them.

And why is that?

The answer is clear: it is because all things belong to God, while the rich behave as if all things belong to them.

The fact is that riches can easily take the place of God in the human heart. They blind the vision and make it easier for all sorts of vices to take root. The Apostle Paul wrote: 'Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.' (1 Tim 6:9-10)

Plato had already affirmed: 'It is impossible for someone who is extraordinarily good to be at the same time extraordinarily rich.'

What, then, should be the attitude of people who have possessions? They ought to have a free heart and be totally open to God, so that they feel that they are administrators of their goods, and know that - as Pope John Paul II said - they are under a social debt.

Since earthly goods are not bad in themselves, we should not despise them, but we must use them well. It's our hearts that have to be detached from them, not our hands. Those who are rich, are rich for the sake of others.

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.

But perhaps you'll say: 'I am not really rich, so these words are not meant for me.'

Be careful. The question that the Apostles asked Christ in their dismay right after this statement was: 'Then who can be saved?' This clearly tells us that Christ's words were in some way directed at everybody.

Even someone who has left everything to follow Christ may have their heart attached to many things. Even the person living in poverty who curses anyone who touches their belongings may be rich before God...

Chiara Lubich

 

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