We may not find it difficult to identify the richest man in the world. According to Forbes as of March 2012 Carlos Slim Helύ of Mexico is the richest man in the world with a net worth of 69 billion US dollars followed closely by Bill Gates with a net worth of 66 billion US dollars as of September 2012. Beyond these the question still remains as to who is really rich?
In a certain town in the Southeastern region of Nigeria, a very rich man died after a protracted illness. It took about six months to prepare for his burial which was expected to be a very huge ceremony with grandiose festivities.
The burial day was more of a carnival than a mournful solemnity. People from different groups and associations the man belonged were clad in radiant outfits and flocked together in solidarity. Before the interment of the great man, as the funeral undertakers were digging the grave, a mad man that was known in the community for his wits came close to the grave and started shouting! Indeed on top of his voice he was lamenting that the funeral undertakers had made a big mistake. The undertakers wanted to ignore him but on a second thought they asked him what it was. Answering he pointed out that the dimensionality of the grave was so small. They asked him why and he went on to say that the grave they had dug won’t be able to accommodate the dead man’s cars, shops, wears, houses and other investments he refused to share with people while he was alive. One of them told him that those things won’t go into the grave with him so there was no need of expanding the grave. With this final answer the mad man walked away disappointed by the fact that the stingy rich man could not be buried with at least one of his cars! For him the stingy rich man ended up amassing so much wealth which other people will eventually share. This is a clear indication that our material wealth and possessions will lose their relevance at death. The question: “is who is really rich?”
In the gospel reading today (Mark 10:17-30) we have an interesting encounter between our Lord Jesus Christ and a man who was referred to as a rich man. (Luke 18:18 would add ruler to the designation). From the gospel reading today we are told that the man ran up to Jesus while he was setting out on a journey, knelt before him and put this question before him: “Good master what must I do to inherit eternal life?” After instructing him not to refer to him (Jesus) as good, our Lord reminded him that he should keep the known commandments and the man agreed that he had been doing that since his earliest years. Then Jesus looked at him and loved and then said to him: “there is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Upon hearing this, the man’s face felled and he went away sad because he was a man of great wealth.
There is need to examine this encounter very closely. We are told that the rich man in question ran to Jesus. This is a typical indication of the urgency in the man’s desire to meet up with Jesus while he was setting out on a journey. Our Lord could stop his journey to give attention to this man who came kneeling before him in humility not minding the fact that he was a man of great wealth. We are told that those who search for the Lord will find him; especially those who do so in humility (Deut.4:29). The Lord will always attend to us when we run up to him not minding other preoccupations. Coming to Jesus the rich man started by calling him good master. At this, Jesus directed his attention to God who alone is good. What Jesus did was to make the man understand that the inquiry he was making was not from the usual masters of their time, but from God who is infinitely good. He wanted to let the man to know that only God is capable of giving the good answer to his question not man.
The man’s question was what he could do to inherit eternal life. The man knew that there is life after this earthly life which is eternal. He had inherited wealth in this world and he was desirous of inheriting eternal life. That was a very positive and commendable desire. Jesus pointed out the conventional commandments and the man asserted that he had kept all of them. And our Lord looked at him and loved him. It is interesting that Jesus loved him. He loved his heart not his face, he love the worth of his soul and not the weight of his wealth; he loved his earnest desire to inherit eternal life. With that same look our Lord discovered that the man was lacking something in his life. He had done all things well except one thing; charity to the poor. Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor and thus gain eternal treasure in heaven and then follow him.
Going back to the man, his face felled at the words of our Lord that he should sell everything and follow him. This confirms the fact that the man had a deep seated attachment to his wealth. In fact from his reaction, he could not do without those material possessions. Though he was a good man in observing the laws, he was bad in terms of the practice of charity. His treasure was on his wealth and that was where his mind was. The man had faith but no good work to show (Jas.2:17). He received so much but refused to give anything.
The rich man not only walked away from Jesus Christ, he walked away from performing charity, he walked away from the vocation to be a disciple and he finally walked away from eternal life. When the man had gone Jesus told his disciples that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle (a small city gate which a camel can enter by kneeling and without load) than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The disciples were amazed at what Jesus Christ said because the conventional assumption at the time was that wealth is a blessing from God indicating righteousness (See Psalm 37:25). Seeing how surprised they were and their question: “who can be saved?” He told them that with God all things are possible but not with men. This fact is very true because with God a carpenter can become a captain, with God a bus conductor can become a contractor, with God a driver can become a director, with God a maid can become a madam, with God a poor man can become suddenly rich (Sirach 11:21). Peter came up to inquire about what would be the fate of those who left everything and followed him and he was assured by the Lord that the reward will be full that is hundred fold.
We resemble the rich man in many ways. In fact his name was not given so that we can insert our names. Sometimes we feel that we have done everything well and that we are qualified to go to heaven. Sometimes we assume that being a member of this or that religion, church, denomination or group would qualify to adopt eternal life for us hereafter. Often time we are so comfortable with our material possessions that we walk away from the face of the Lord. We are often overwhelmed by our material wealth that we neither hear nor see the Lord calling us to follow him. We are often blinded by material wealth that we do not see the poor and needy around us. It takes divine direction to see, appreciate and give hand to the poor. A story is told about a priest who brought food for a family known to be so dejected and poor in his parish. After receiving the food from the priest, the mother of the family divided it into two equal parts and walked away from the house! She came back after some minutes with bare hands. The priest who was wondering why she walked away asked her why she divided the food into two and where went to you drop the part she took away. The woman responded: “we have a family living down the street and I thought we could share the food with them because they are as well starving!” The priest could not utter a word as he was overwhelmed by such act of selflessness. Nobody is too poor that he or she cannot give. You are better than someone (be kind enough to give). Someone is better than you (be humble).
This night about 850 million people will go to bed hungry. This actually happens every day yet many of us throw food away into the trash every hour. The wealth in the world generally can make each and every one of us comfortable and happy. The problem is that those who are custodians of wealth are not ready to share. Just recently in Nigeria, the Federal Government released a total sum of N17.6 Billion (aprox. 112 Million dollars) for victims of flood in some states in the country. We are praying and hoping that those who are genuinely affected by the flood receive the money. How often do many rich people ignore the cry and plight of the poor among us and focus on their personal interests and comforts. It takes the wisdom, Knowledge and understanding that comes from God (as the first reading showed) for us to see, appreciate and assist the poor and thus be acceptable to God (Matt. 25:31ff).
May the word of God which is alive and active direct the course of our lives to be able to appreciate and assist the poor in among us. The really rich person is one who is wise enough to be God’s hands towards the poor. Today we are called to rewrite the story of the rich man by giving. God actually wants us to give all by giving ourselves to him. That is why we sing: “My life time I will give God my life time. If I give God my life time, he will take care of me…he will never never let me down… I will give God my life time!
Happy Sunday and do have a wonderful week ahead.