Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California
There is a well known phrase in the Christian Gospels, the saying of Christ that " it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (Lk 18: 25). A superficial understanding of this teaching would have it that to be rich, in and of itself, bars one from God's kingdom. But a deeper spiritual perception would indicate the fallacy in this apprehension.
We might first consider what various religious traditions say about wealth or bounty. In Hebrew tradition, it is the misuse of wealth - a failure to help others that is sinful. The Prophet Amos points out: "Hear this word, ye fat kine [bovine] that are in the mountains of Samaria: you that oppress the needy, and crush the poor: that say to your masters: Bring, and we will drink." In Islamic tradition, Allah blesses the rich who " feed, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive" (Koran 79:8). Buddhist writer Ven. Jotika of Parng Loung states, "From [the] Buddhist point of view, good and praiseworthy is one who accumulates holdings in rightful ways and utilizes it for the good and happiness of both oneself and others."i Swami Narasimhananda describes the Hindu teachings on wealth, telling us: " wealthy people need to share their wealth with the less fortunate."
The Fathers of the Church clearly understood the deeper, true spiritual meaning of Christ's teaching about being rich. St. Theophylact, in his great commentary on the Holy Gospels, emphatically states: "It is not riches that are evil. It is instead those who hold onto wealth who deserved to be accused... [rather we should] be compassionate toward all."ii The great feasts that are celebrated in December of the civil calendar, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa, all follow the feast of Thanksgiving that is celebrated at the end of November. 'Love' is the spirit common to all these celebrations. What better way to make the Thanksgiving Feast spiritually meaningful and not simply a secular event than to allow God to conquer the hearts of each of us who is blessed by the wealth of His bounty, by the many possessions we have, and thus inspire us to share with the needy and the poor, especially during this December period, but actually throughout the whole year.
We could be reminded this year that many average people suffered immense losses from an unexpected untoward event of nature - Superstorm Sandy. The graphic images of the widespread destruction and human suffering have, I pray, incited compassion in all our hearts. We should note the words of St. Gregory the Dialogist: "Godly love cannot be perfect unless a man love his neighbor also. Under which name must be included not only those who are connected with us by friendship or neighborhood, but absolutely all men with whom we have a common nature, whether they be foes or allies, slaves or free."iii
To put this into practice, we should reflect on the words of St. Basil: "The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit."iv By sharing the wealth of our bounty with all by our good will we can help to bring into reality the song of the angel's at Christ's birth: "Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will." (Lk 2: 14)
ii Blessed Theophylact. (2008). The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of The Holy Gospel. House Springs, MO: Chrysostom Press.
iii Manley, J. (1990). The Bible and the Holy Fathers. Menlo Park, CA: Monastery Books
iv St. Basil. Homily 4 on Luke xii 18