“It will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:23)
The best way to understand today’s Gospel passage is to read it in the context of that of yesterday. When Jesus saw how the young man walked away in sorrow, unwilling to sell his possessions and give to the poor, Jesus shook his head and declared: “How hard it is for the rich to enter into the kingdom of God. Again I tell you, 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.”
As a kid, I assumed Jesus was talking about the needle we use in sewing clothes. Not too long ago, I learnt that there is a particular gate into the city of Jerusalem called “the eye of a needle.” This gate is so small that a camel would have a very hard time passing through it. It is not impossible for the camel to go through this gate but that camel would have to subject itself to several excruciating pains. Of course, whatever load it was carrying must be dropped first.
The point Jesus is making here is that it is very easy for wealth and even the desire for riches take the place of God thereby preventing us from attaining heaven. Indeed, we cannot deny the fact in today’s world, money is an idol both to the rich and the poor. If we examine our consciences, we would admit that we love money just as much as we love God. The disciples of Jesus understood this dilemma and were quick to ask Jesus: “Who then can be saved?” meaning, ‘we are all guilty.’
Jesus responded saying: “With men this is impossible but with God, all things are possible.” This saying of Jesus immediately takes us to our first reading today where we see an Angel of God addressing Gideon as a “mighty man of valour.” Gideon who had always looked down on himself did not believe he was the one the Angel was talking to. “Behold my clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family.”
Just as Jesus said that with God, all things are possible, the Angel said to Gideon: “But I will be with you, and you shall smite the Midianites as one man.” That is to say, if we are to depend on ourselves, we are nothing but if we have God on our side, nothing will be too hard for us. In other words, if solely depend on our riches or our physical strength or intelligence, we cannot make it to heaven. We must hold God.
Put simply, the richer we become, the more closely we should draw to God lest we become carried away by pride or become like the fool who felt he had no need of God since his lands produced abundant goods. As the Psalmist teaches us: “Do not set your heart on riches even when they increase.” (Psalm 62:10).
Peter said to Jesus: “Behold we have left everything to follow you, what then shall be gain?” To this question, Jesus provided two answers, first, “in the new word; that is, in heaven, you will sit among the twelve stones to judge the people” and secondly, even in this world, “anyone who has left houses, lands, family members, etc. for my sake will receive a hundred fold (of whatever he/she has left) and still inherit eternal life.” This is a secret that many Christians do not know.
Finally, we remember the great St. Bernard of Clairvaux today. I call him great because he is among the 33 Doctors of the Church. A doctor of the Church means one a Saint whose writings and teachings have been approved by the Church as authoritative sources of truth. They are not medical doctors but special PhD holders in a sense. As the Catholic Culture dot Org website states, the doctor is a saint “whose writing or preaching is outstanding for guiding the faithful in all periods of the Church’s history.”
My favourite quote from St. Bernard is this: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions!”
Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu.