Wealth vs the Love of Wealth


Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’” And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For 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.” And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?” But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18:18-27) 


Clement of Alexandria (d. ca 215AD) commenting on the Matthew 19 parallel lesson to the verse above from St Luke, says: 

“Ponder for a minute Jesus words, ‘If you want to be perfect…‘ (Matt 19: 21). These words make it clear that the rich man was not yet perfect. For there’s no such thing as being more perfect. Notice also the divine expression, ‘if you wish to…’ (Matt 19:21) . . . For God does not compel anyone [to come to him]. Compulsion is repugnant to him. Rather, he supplies to those who seek. He give to those who ask. He opens to those who knock (Matt 7:7,8). . . .


This young man had fulfilled all the requirements of the law from the time of his youth. He had gloried in what was magnificent. Yet, he was not able to complete [his quest] by adding the one thing the Savior particularly required. He was unable to receive the eternal life he so desired. So he went away distressed, upset at the one commandment of [eternal] life that he had asked about. What was the problem? His problem was that he did not really desire life, as he claimed. All he wanted was the reputation of seeking the good.  . . . 

[Many of us suffer from the desire to look good, rather than to do good, let alone be good.  “But the LORD said to Samuel, Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7).]


Why, then, did the young man leave the master? Why did he so quickly abandon the life and hope he had been so earnestly pursuing? It was because Jesus told him, “Sell your possessions.” But what did Jesus mean? Jesus was not saying, as some people quickly conclude, that the young man should throw away all he owned and abandoned his property. Instead, the Savior was directing him to banish from his soul all his views about wealth—both his excitement and his worries. He directed him to abandon his material anxieties, which are the thorns of existence that choked the seeds of life (Matt 13:22).  . . .


Furthermore, remember that renouncing one’s wealth and giving it to the poor was no new thing. Many people had done this before the Savior came to earth. Some people [like the philosophers] did it in order to pursue empty human wisdom. . . . Why, then, did the master command it as though it were something new and divine—as though it alone were lifegiving? After all, this very same thing did not save people in times past. So what was the special thing the Son of God was teaching? It was not the outward act—the thing that many others had already done. Rather, it was something greater, more godlike, and more perfect: To strip the desires of the flesh from one’s very soul. To pull up from the roots and throw away the things that are alien to the soul [or mind]. This is the instruction worthy to come from the Savior himself. This is the teaching that is unique to believers. 

In the past, those who renounced external things gave up only their material possessions. But at the same time I think they intensified the longings of the flesh for they were arrogant, pretentious, and boastfully vain.” (THE ONE WHO KNOWS GOD, pp 19-20) 


There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:6-11)