The recent development of Tea Parties across the United States has re-injected various forms of the ideal of Liberty into the debate in American politics. This is something to be commended. Those who sow seeds in the Cause of Liberty and tend to its soil have an opportunity to harvest her accorded blessings. I pray that this fervor continues. My hope in this writing as that the soil might be tilled a little more so that those seeds might be planted at the appropriate depths yielding a more full harvest. May God bless us in this endeavor.
A major issue that has sparked your Tea Party has been that of taxes, and moreso the redistribution of wealth. In taxes and the governments prerogative of redistribution, you take offense. You find it a sort of tyranny. You who pursue Liberty appeal to that noble Cause which protects the individual from tyranny. You believe that God, Himself, has ordained that humanity and the individual are endowed with such inalienable rights that guards against any ruler placing limitations on your free will.
Tyranny indeed is an evil that imprisons the individual and prevents persons within humanity from achieving their full potential. Such an evil ought to be fought, so you are right to fight for the protection of your lot in life: for the protection of your Liberty.
Your love for Christ is indeed professed. And, it is the Liberty granted by Christ through His salvation on the Cross that you appeal. I too appeal to the same Christ and His same salvation: freely given that we might freely give (Matt. 10:8).
I write this because of your concern for what you perceive those who “lord it over you” to be taking away from you. You are concerned about taxes and the increase of taxes. Moreover, you are concerned about how those tax dollars are being used. In fact you are concerned that the wealth you have acquired is being redistributed to assist others you feel undeserving.
You ought to be concerned about what is taken from you and denied you. It is a great start. From this foundation, I implore you to think of what you are denying yourselves. Yet, your wealth is more than your money. And this too must be considered. What else has tyranny denied you? What else ought Providence compel you to redistribute? In this vein, we must speak on the redistribution of wealth and its purpose in salvation.
Here we will discuss the Master’s teaching on how those of us who appear to be righteous and to do good are still lacking something necessary for salvation. To expose this truth, I point us to our Lord’s encounter with the “Rich Young Ruler” in Luke 18:18-23. That “one thing” lacked was the rich man’s willing redistribution of his wealth. It was the one thing that would prevent him from entering the Kingdom of God.
Yes, I know some of you will point to Romans 10:9; I will not argue. For, it is true: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” But, what is the true confession if not to obey the Voice of the Master?
In the Holy Gospel of St. Luke, chapter 18, verses 18-23 we see a very rich man approach the Lord, in search of salvation. He honors the Teacher calling Him “Good.” The rich man stands before the Lord, justified in his righteousness. But, he leaves the Master’s presence dejected, unable to share his wealth with the less fortunate. Here is the text that reveals certain answers to our present problem:
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.
Clearly, the rich man knew the Lord. He knew Jesus not simply as a teacher, but moreso as the Good Teacher, Who alone is God. Acknowledging Jesus as the Good Teacher is thus akin to acknowledging Him as Lord. To acknowledge Him as Lord and as God is to believe in His eternal nature: professed to us Christians in His “risenness.”
The rich man knew the commandments and was able to stand boldly before the Good Teacher and profess that he had obeyed the commandments. Our Lord, Who is all-knowing, did not dispute this point with the rich man, leaving us to believe that he was telling the truth to have said: “all these things I have kept from my youth.”
Knowing to Whom he was speaking and knowing he, himself, to be righteous, we see that on the surface this rich man knew Jesus to be Lord and knew that Jesus was the eternal One. We might ask then: “why would this man still need to ask about his salvation? Why would he still be unsure if he would inherit eternal life?”
The answer could be none other than vainglory, the mother of pride and a multitude of vices. In The Ladder of Divine Ascent, St. John Climacus says this of vainglory: “A vainglorious man is a believing idolater. Apparently honoring God, he actually is out to please not God but men.”
The rich man encountering the Good Teacher was a believing idolater. He believed he had knowledge of the faith; he obeyed the commandments. But, was his purpose truly to seek salvation?
He was given the key ingredient missing from his seemingly well-lived life. But, he was unable to add that ingredient to his life. Instead, he walked away: unable to shed his wealth.
Moreover, this rich man was unable to shed his cloak of righteousness. He was unable to shed his social standing. He was “very rich,” and enjoyed a high rank in society. He had either earned or inherited his wealth why should he have to share that wealth with those others who had no share in its acquisition?
These must have been the questions on the mind of this rich man as he encountered the Good Teacher. “Salvation should be simple,” he must have thought to himself. Can you not hear his thoughts: “but I have done all that I was told. I have obeyed the Law. I recognize you as the Good Teacher. Why must I do more? Why must I share my wealth with the poor? Is this my reward for my lifetime of righteousness?”
This was the source of the rich man’s dejection: his vainglory, his pride. Rather than actually seeking eternal life, he sought after the approval of the Good Teacher as a badge of honor allowing him to boast of his salvation. Had our Lord approved of the rich man, he would have been able to publicly proclaim that he had been assured of his salvation. This then would add to his wealth and prestige. Our Lord knew this that is why He required the rich man to humble himself by sharing with others who the man believed less than himself. Yet while he had obeyed the other commandments from his youth, the rich man was unable to please God and keep this command to humble himself. Truly the rich man was a “believing idolater…out to please not God but men.”
So what has this to do with wealth redistribution? Well, that is a simple question. When coming to Christ to seek his salvation, the self-approved rich man felt assured that he had already been saved. Yet, when faced with the prospect of shedding his wealth the rich man was unable to bear such perceived hardship. Rather than distribute his wealth among the poor, he preferred to appearance of wealth to its truth.
As he walked away from the Good Teacher, our Lord was grieved. In Luke 18:24 & 24 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 a camel does not pass through the eye of a needle without great difficulty. Yes, beloved, it can indeed pass through the needle’s eye. Yet, in order to do so, the tradesman must unload all of the cargo from the camel. Then the camel must be coerced to kneel down. Once on its knees, that camel must then scoot itself through the tiny passageway. It is a feat done only with great care!
Nevertheless, the Good Teacher says that the work required for a camel to do this is easier than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God! Why would the Master say this? How could it be that riches would burden a person so?
Wealth and riches strengthens vainglory and pride. He wanted the rich man to understand that he needed to: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” The rich young ruler came asking the Good Teacher how he might find the true life that is eternal. And, the vices of vainglory and pride are too much for anyone to carry through the “narrow gate.” Do you see what a heavy burden riches are?
But we know that it cannot simply be the man’s riches that prevent his entrance into the kingdom of God, for Solomon, David, Abraham and others of the Old Testament were rich. No, what prevented this man was his inability to share his wealth with the poor and needy. For if he gave his wealth to the poor, he felt he would loose his own life: the things that were his own. Did not the Good Teacher tell us: “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Matt. 16:25). The rich young ruler desired to maintain his present social stature more than his eternal stature. He was more interested in protecting his wealth from those others who he found undeserving of his bounty.
The rich man was called upon to redistribute his wealth in order to cure him of his vainglory and pride. He was infected with a sinful desire to be “the Jones” with whom others must keep pace. He needed to have the accouterments of wealth, success and prestige so as to be praised by his family, friends, neighbors – indeed by society. Had he redistributed his wealth to the poor as the Good Teacher had commanded, he would no longer be a member of high society. He would loose his social stature those who presumably hang around to share in his lavish living would shun him.
Our Lord commanded the rich man to give to the poor not so much for the benefit of the poor (although they would definitely benefit). He commanded the rich man to redistribute his wealth because that wealth had become his god. That wealth had become more important than salvation. Rather than being the height of wealth, salvation had become a mere trinket, an addition to the man’s wealth.
The Good Teacher commanded the rich young ruler to redistribute his wealth to the poor so that the man would acquire the blessing of being cured from his vainglory and idolatry. Do you see how the Great Physician knows the medicine needed for our health and wellness? Oh, that we who are in need of His prescriptions would willing accept our treatment!
Had the rich young ruler accepted the treatment of the Great Physician, and given his wealth to the poor he would have seen himself cured of those things preventing his salvation. He would not have left the Good Teacher’s presence dejected. Rather, he would have remained with his Master.
By willingly and mercifully redistributing his wealth to the poor, the rich young ruler would have been likened to the good and faithful servant in Matthew 25 he would have heard it said unto him: “Well done, good and faithful servant you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” In in the joy of our Lord, this small time ruler would have found himself ruling over greater territory. But, he could only see passing things this man had no vision for those things that are eternal. So, he walked away from the Good Teacher and His teaching in order to hang onto his earthly life. What a shame!
You would do well to think of this rich young ruler and the redistribution of wealth. I do not say this to you simply for the sake of others, but for your own sakes as well. Do not allow vainglory and pride to prevent you from entering the narrow gate. And, I warn you further not to allow pride to tell you that you are free from this problem.
Vainglory comes upon us all unawares. St. John Climacus again bears witness of this when he says, “What I mean is this: I fast, and turn vainglorious. I stop fasting so that I will draw no attention to myself, and I become vainglorious over my prudence. I dress well or badly, and am vainglorious in either case. I talk or I remain silent, and each time I am defeated. No matter how I shed this prickly thing, a spike remains to stand up against me.”
We should be swift to give thanks to God for this lesson and reap its benefits. Let us not think ourselves justified let us not boast of our salvation. Rather, let us humble ourselves and heed our Lord’s command. Let us shun doing things that might win us praise from other people instead of praise from the One Who is Good. Let us accept the Master’s medicine that we might be healed. May we continue to study the redistribution of wealth and it’s efficacy for our souls, so that we might find ourselves in the eternal joy of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be all glory and praise, forever. Amen.