Money is NOT the Root of Evil: Evangelical Simplicity
Learning to live in Evangelical Simplicity strips away what impedes love. In finding our proper relationship to the goods of the earth- not rejecting them, craving them, or turning them into an idol- we can learn true freedom. Our eyes are opened and everything begins to look different because it is bathed in the Light of the Gospel.
Simplicity is not about the quantity of the goods of the earth we possess. It is about our relationship to them. Jesus said - Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:21).
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - There is a sobering story in the Gospel of Luke. It tells us about a rich man who embraced a wrong relationship with the goods of the earth. Instead of offering these goods back to the Lord who is their Source - and using them to serve others - his disordered appetites entrapped and blinded him. His sin, his wrong choice, his abuse of human freedom, was that he failed to see the need of his brother.
"Jesus said to the Pharisees: "There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham."
"The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.' Abraham replied, 'My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented."
"Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.' He said, 'Then I beg you, father, send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.'
"But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.' He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.' (Luke 16: 19-31)
Notice something of great importance - the Lord said nothing about the rich man's material possessions. It was his wrongful use of them which he addressed. The Rich Man failed to recognize the need of others.
St Augustine proclaimed in a homily on this Gospel passage: "Lazarus was received into heaven because of his humility and not because of his poverty. Wealth itself was not what kept the rich man from eternal bliss. His punishment was for selfishness and disloyalty" Having goods is not sin. It is whether they actually have us. In this parable, goods have the man. They have become an idol.
In an age of bumper stickers such as "Whoever dies with the most toys wins" and "I am spending my retirement spending my children's inheritance", Christians are called to a different approach to the goods of the earth. We are invited to embrace evangelical simplicity in our life.
Simplicity is not about the quantity of the goods of the earth we possess. It is about our relationship to them. Jesus said - "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21).
How often have we have heard the saying, "Money is the root of all evil"? That is not what the Apostle Paul actually wrote to Timothy.
He wrote two letters to Timothy, a young disciple who had been placed in leadership over the Christian community at Ephesus, a city known for its wealth and luxury. St. Paul traveled there to plant the nascent Christian Church. Knowing that those Christian believers would face certain dangers when dealing with wealth, he reminded Timothy:
"Indeed, religion with contentment is a great gain; for we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it. If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that. Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction".
"For the love of money is the root of all evils - and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains. But you, man of God, avoid all this. Instead, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness." (1 Tim. 6: 6-11)
Money is not evil. Nor is it proof of God's blessing and favor -a view that insults Christians who struggle daily to survive. Both errors are rooted in a mistaken foundation. They are self-centered rather than God and other centered.
The phrase "love of money" speaks to the heart. In the biblical language, the heart is the center of a man or woman, the place where they make their fundamental decisions concerning life.
When we love the goods of the earth more than we love the One who created them - and entrusts them to us - we commit the sin of idolatry. A destitute person can be just as obsessed with money as a wealthy one who is given over to greed. Greed is a form of idolatry.
In another letter to the Philippians, St Paul explained his own approach to material things: "I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need" (Philippians 4:12).
Paul was free from the love of money. We can be as well.
The Gospels of Matthew and Mark both describe an encounter between Jesus and a wealthy young man. The account as it is set forth by the evangelist Matthew was the Gospel passage at the Liturgy just this past week in the twentieth week of Ordinary time in the Catholic Liturgical calendar.
This young man had followed the commandments since his youth, but Jesus told him it was not enough. He instructed the young man to give up his possessions and follow Him. We read that the man refused and went away sad because his possessions possessed him.
Consider the sobering words which follow this encounter:
"Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, 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.' When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, 'Who then can be saved?' Jesus looked at them and said, 'For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.' (Matthew 19, Mark 10).
When we recognize our own poverty of spirit, when we voluntarily embrace it, we are able to live lives that are dependent upon Jesus. Only He can satisfy the hunger of the human heart. When we have Him, we have everything; even though we may possess nothing.
We discover the secret of what I call the economy of heavenly scale. Those who live in evangelical simplicity are the richest people on the earth. Jesus called them the "poor in spirit." He promised them blessedness. He proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven belongs to them (Matt 5:3).
Some Christians are called to a voluntary embrace of economic poverty as part of a specific vocation. I respect that vocation as a prophetic sign for us all. However, most of us live in the material world of bills, possessions, and financial challenges. We are called to commerce; called to turn commerce toward what is true and good and noble.
In dealing with bills, possessions and financial challenges, we are invited by the Lord to receive the goods of this earth, including money, as His gift and to then use them with the freedom which comes from having a real, living, vibrant relationship with Him.
Our relationship to this world - and the goods of this world- should mirror that of God's Son whom we follow. Jesus was born in a manger. As an adult he had no place to lay his head. He was raised in a simple home- by a woman whose heart recognized true wealth.
Remember the words that the angel spoke to Mary when she asked how it could be that she would bear the Messiah. "Nothing is impossible with God" (Luke 1:37) Mary understood that when you have the Lord, you have it all.
She lived in the economy of heavenly scale. And, if we choose to do so, we can live there too.
There is an invitation to evangelical simplicity in Gods loving plan for each one of us. To those who voluntarily embrace it, evangelical simplicity also becomes an invitation to love, and a school of sanctity. All relationships, with persons as well as with the goods of the earth, can be changed by its embrace.
The truth is that Christians do not avoid economic struggle any more than they avoid relational struggles, suffering, hardships and difficulty. That is not to say that the Lord cannot intervene and deliver us from all the effects of these very human realities. He often does. But when He does not, that does not mean he has not heard our prayer. Rather, it means that He has a different loving purpose in mind.
So often in life, what changes in life is not the circumstances around us, but what is at work within us. What changes is our own internal capacity to see them with the eyes of living faith and trust that the Lord Jesus Christ is right there with us - right in the midst of them.
Painful experiences, including economic struggles, can provide the very material for our own personal transformation. When we turn to the Lord in the midst of them, He gives us the grace to see them differently. He makes it possible for us to open ourselves to the fullness of life.
Through simple surrender to the loving plan of God, we can learn how to enter into communion with the Lord and experience His loving gaze in each of our lives. Fear dissipates and everything becomes bathed in love.
The way of simplicity paves a path to real peace. The capacity to see life differently comes through from prayer. Contemplatives comprehend, or rather, are comprehended by, the experience of communion with the Lord. They fall in love with God and need nothing else.
Father Louis (Thomas Merton) wrote on November 10, 1963, "Whatever I may have written, I think it all can be reduced in the end to this one root truth: that God calls human persons to union with Himself and with one another in Christ, in the Church which is His Mystical Body. It is also a witness to the fact that there is and must be, in the church, a contemplative life which has no other function than to realize these mysterious things, and return to God all the thanks and praise that human hearts can give Him."
Evangelical Simplicity, when embraced voluntarily, strips away only what impedes real love. In finding our proper relationship to the goods of the earth - not utterly rejecting them, craving them, or turning them into an idol - we find true and lasting freedom.
Our eyes are opened. We learn to see Lazarus. We are also given the grace to see Jesus in Lazarus.We learn to walk the way of evangelical simplicity. We learn to live in the economy of heavenly scale. We also smash the idols of the contemporary age, as we walk along the Gospel way to true freedom.
Deacon Keith Fournier, the Editor in Chief of Catholic Online, is also the Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance. A Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, he and his wife Laurine have five grown children and seven grandchildren.
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