Today’s reading are rich. They are overflowing with ‘rich’ wisdom, ‘rich’ wit, and ‘rich’ imagery on the subject… of being ‘rich’. The first reading, from the Book of Wisdom, offers us in the form of gorgeouspoetry, a powerful moral compass: Cherish wisdom more than riches, more than health, more than good looks and even the light.
The Gospel offers us another perspective on the matter: It’s very difficult for someone who has privilegeand power to let it go or give it up, even to attain spiritual fulfillment.
Jesus tells the rich, eager person: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven".
The rich one is saddened by this invitation and Jesus tells the disciples:
“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."
Do not be mystified by the saying about the camel. It was something they said at the time. It’s the equivalent of “when pigs fly” … it ain’t gonna happen.
Why is it so difficult for the person with lots of possessions and wealth and privilege to share them with others, even when guaranteed to experience God’s peace? I believe that a more modern idiom can help us understand a privileged person’s struggle.
I am very fond of the saying “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.” I always liked the sentiment (You can’t have it all. Everyone has to make difficult choices.), but I recently learned that the proverb's original meaning was "you cannot simultaneously retain your cake and eat it". You cannot keep your cake for tomorrow and eat it today. I think that we privileged people feel entitled to cake today and cake tomorrow. And if not actually entitled, we would very much like cake today and cake tomorrow.
Chocolate cake with cocoa beans from the Ivory Coast. Cheesecake with milk from industrial dairy farms in the US. Carrot cake regardless of the season. Import it all. Avocados all year round. And obviously anendless supply of coffee too. We can rely on stocked shelves. We can get anything we want delivered for dinner.
And that seems to me to be the source of the rich person’s sadness. We’ve made plans with our privilege. We’ve gotten used to a certain standard of living. We are planning on living that way tomorrow. We know thatour way of life unjustly advantages white people and US citizens and we are afraid of being on the other side of our own systems; afraid to do without. Even if we are ready to live with less, we are unsure how to opt out of so many large and intersecting systems. It seems easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle or pigs to fly than it is for us to stop the systems of human and environmental exploitation.
And here is where scripture offers us a path forward as individuals: the invitation in the first reading is to like differently, to cherish differently, to plan differently.
I preferred prudence to scepter and throne,
and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her;
because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire.
Pray for “wisdom”, that you may recognize and seek life’s true treasures: community, biodiversity, clean water, being an honest person, making music, dancing, laughter, reparations, mutual aid, wholeness, art, friendship.
Second, trust Jesus when he promises that your shifting value system will yield a hundred times more now in this present age and in the age to come -- You will experience energy, be at peace, be happy,be truly alive.
Let us remember the rich person in the passage and choose not to leave saddened. Let us do the work of shifting what we cherish so we can chart a new life and have new life in abundance.
Karen Gargamelli-McCreight is a co-founder of Benincasa Community, a lay Catholic community rooted in and inspired by the Catholic Worker, Dominican Sisters (and many congregations of women religious), as well as the “98th St./Thompson St.” Jesuit Community. The primary works of Benincasa Community are: offering hospitality, promoting lay formation/leadership and seeking right-relationship with our Earth. In July 2021 Benincasa Community moved to Guilford CT to set up a “green monastery and motherhouse”. They are, currently, renovating an old hunting and camping lodge and welcome your support! Prior to establishing Benincasa Community, Karen was Co-Director and staff attorney at Common Law. She earned her J.D. at CUNY School of Law and B.A. at Loyola University Chicago. She was born in New Haven, CT and grew up in Branford, CT—which means she loves white clam pizza pie, Foxon Park soda and marshy wetlands.
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