Your Money or Your Life — On Camels and Needles

You keep your needles away from me!

Here’s an excerpt from today’s gospel, and there is something there I had never noticed before:

The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees!
Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish,
inside you are filled with plunder and evil.
You fools!
Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?
But as to what is within, give alms,
and behold, everything will be clean for you.”

Before this was the famous “camel through the eye of a needle” quip. Notice that Jesus is dealing with the Pharisees, and he comes up with a solution for their hypocrisy and self righteousness that really nails it: “Give alms and everything will be clean for you.”

From time to time I will preach about what we politely call “stewardship”, and what a lot of  blather we do churn out. All this talk about “time, talent and treasure”. All this talk about ‘stewardship of God’s resources’. Jesus didn’t talk like that. He said, “It is very difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. That is to say, “It is very difficult for a rich person to be saved.” or to put it another way, “It is very easy for a rich person to go to hell.”

See what we don’t want to do…REALLY don’t want to do is offend the rich people or they will tootle off to another parish along with their check book. So we tiptoe through the minefield and talk about “perhaps giving a bit more seriously to the Lord’s work.” Even when you tiptoe you still get people grumbling…. “Meh…All Father does is talk about money!” which being translated is, “He’s not getting any money from me I’ll tell  you that much!”

I want to cry out with the Lord–”You fools!” You don’t get it. I don’t give a camel’s hump whether you give your money to me or not. It’s not about me. It’s not even about our parish or the bills we need to pay. It’s about your and whether you are headed up or down. There’s only two ways, and if you’re not climbing up you’re headed down. It might be a slow, gentle, lazy decline, but the direction is still down.

On the money thing we miss the point entirely. The point of giving alms is not because the church needs a new roof or because we have to pay Father’s insurance or even because we should feed the hungry. We are supposed to give alms because it is the cure for our hypocrisy and self righteousness. The problem with rich people is not that they’re rich, but that they don’t think they need anything. The problem is not having nice things and being wealthy. The problem is that these things are obstacles to loving God and furthermore, they tend to make us feel not only self sufficient, but self made. We’re proud of how wealthy we are. It makes us feel good about ourselves, and these are the building blocks of becoming the kind of insufferable, self righteous, fools that Jesus condemns.

Do you want to make spiritual progress? Give more of your money away to help the poor. That’s the fastest way to move forward and it’s also very effective. When you give your money away you tell the money who’s in charge. You take control rather than the money taking control of you. When you consider the poor you also start to become humble and you can’t be self righteous for long if you get involved in giving money and time to the poor.

So forget all the image stuff, all the nice respectable Catholic stuff and do something radical for once. Give alms. Then everything will be clean for you.

  • Deacon Dick

    Know the Truth

  • Ted Seeber

    And if you’re searching for one to give to, here’s one that saves lives:
    http://ourpeacefulplace.org

    After many years, and the loss of the dear nun who founded the ministry, it’s failing from a lack of monthly donors. This is a ministry that is small- and reaches human beings that have NOTHING- that are sleeping on the streets.

  • veritas

    I wonder how Evangelicals cope with these words of Our Lord?

    For Evangelicals, NOTHING we do effects our salvation. In their view, Jesus died for us once, and all we have to do is say, “Jesus, you are my Lord and Savior”, and from then on we are permanently saved.

    However, this doctrine, invented by Luther, is utterly un-Scriptural. I won’t even begin to quote the numerous verses that attach our salvation- a salvation that we have to work at all our lives and not take for granted- to how we respond to God and to our fellow man.

    For Evangelicals, these words of Our Lord must be as puzzling as they were to the Pharisees.

    • Ted Seeber

      For MOST Evangelicals, these words offer no problem.

      For the students of the Dallas Theology Institute, which teaches the Health and Wealth theology, these words would be a problem, but they simply never read them (near as I can tell, there are only 30 sentences out of the Bible those people read, and they very narrowly preach on those same 30 verses over and over).

      • veritas

        Well this section of Scripture ( and hundreds of others!) should offer a problem for ALL Evangelicals. I was once a Protestant and I was constantly taught that NOTHING we can do, in any way, effects our salvation. Jesus did it all for us and once we accept Him as Lord and Saviour that is it. It’s over. We are saved. We can’t lose that salvation.

        The vile quotes from Luther concerning this should make any Evangelical very embarrassed. Luther said that “…the sin cannot tear you away from him, even though you commit adultery a hundred times a day and commit as many murders.”

        This is of course an utterly um-Scriptural, teaching but it is taught by all Evangelicals.

  • James

    Perhaps even worse, money makes us feel powerful–powerful enough to insulate ourselves from the messages of salvation because after all, the priest needs to meet the bills of the parish and if he alienates too many of the rich he can’t do that. Thanks be for brave priests who remind us of these truths.

  • Julie C.

    Father, I will share a story with you and your followers. My youngest son was in the 4th grade when the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster occurred in Japan in 2011. He was very shaken every time we watched the news and would talk about how afraid the children in Japan must be. He told me one morning several days after the disaster that he had been praying an entire rosary every night for the Japanese people and had decided to give all of his money($15.00) toward the relief effort. In fact, he told me that he didn’t need his money, that he would probably just spend it on something stupid anyway. He was upset, though, that he did not have more to give, so I told him to pray another rosary that night and, while doing so, he should ask God for some way to give more money. I told him to really listen with his heart for God’s answer. The next morning as he arose to get ready for school, he happily told me of his idea. Occasionally his Catholic school will have a day when the kids can pay $1.00 toward a charity in order to wear clothes other than their uniforms. My son’s idea was for the kids to pay $5.00 of their own money in order to wear regular clothes and then ask their parents to match their donation. He spoke to the principal and the idea was implemented. A small Catholic school of only 140 students raised over $1,100.00 that was given to the Red Cross to be used in Japan. My son was elated. Afterward, he talked about how great he felt by being able to do so much and that he had now decided what he wanted to be when he grows up – a great humanitarian. I told him he already was one!

    • Faith

      What a wonderful story. God bless your beautiful son!

  • Natasa

    Great post. It is best explanation of the relationship between wealth and salvation I’ve ever come across. Finally the camel and the eye of the needle make sense. Thank you.

  • Frank Weathers

    Good one, Father Dwight! For folks who would like to something similar, albeit in a longer format, here is St. Clement of Alexandria’s Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?


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