HOW A CHRISTIAN SHOULD AND SHOULD NOT USE HIS WEALTH
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Sunday, 26th Sunday of the Year, September 25, 2016
Amos 6:1, 4-7, Psalm 145, 1 Timothy 6:11-16, Luke 16:19-31
Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.
"But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish'" (Luke 16:25).
This is the parable of the rich glutton and Lazarus. "There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores" (Luke 16:19-21).
We see here a wealthy man who uses his wealth to live a luxurious life, feasting "sumptuously every day" (Luke 16:19). When he dies, he goes to hell and is in torment in the flames. Meanwhile a very poor, sick man, Lazarus, lies at his gate. When he dies, he goes to Abraham's bosom. Abraham then tells the rich man why is in hell and why Lazarus is in his bosom, "Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish" (Luke 16:25).
What does this mean? It means that the rich man lived a life of luxury and "feasted sumptuously every day" (Luke 16:19). Meanwhile Lazarus lived a very simple, poor life, and now he is rewarded in Abraham's bosom. How did this rich man use his wealth? He used it for a life of extravagant worldly pleasure and gluttony, feasting "sumptuously every day" (Luke 16:19). This is clearly not how we are supposed to use our wealth. This divides our heart from a pure love of God and weighs us down with dissipation and worldly pleasures. This is serving God and mammon, or rather he is probably only trying to serve mammon (Matthew 6:24). In either case, he is not living properly. He is not using his wealth properly.
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24). "Take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare" (Luke 21:34).
This rich man is living a life of dissipation, misusing the wealth that God has given him. His wealth was given to him not to live luxuriously, filling himself with worldly pleasures, dividing his heart from a pure love of God, and weighing down his spirit, but rather it was given to him by God to use to help others in need, such as Lazarus, who is lying at his gate. "Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy" (Romans 13:13).
It will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, because the rich usually live a life of extravagant worldly pleasure and daily sumptuous banqueting. "And Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, 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'" (Matthew 19:23-24).
It is not wealth as such that is being condemned by Jesus, but the false use of it to live a worldly, pleasure-centered life instead of a simple, God-centered, dedicated life. The rich man in this parable did not live properly nor did he use his wealth properly. He should have lived a simple life, eaten simple, plain food, and then used his wealth to help others. He did not do this, and so when he died, he went to hell. He failed the test of life and is now in hell forever.
Let us take good warning from this parable and not fail the test of life and end up where he ended up. Let us learn a good lesson and begin to live a simple life and use whatever wealth we may have been given by God, in excess of our own basic simple needs, to help those in need.
The best possible way to help people is to preach the gospel to them. To do this in a variety of languages requires faithful translators who will then further preach, explain, and distribute the sermons in their own language and country, and this will be an excellent use of what wealth we may have been given. This is how I am trying to use what money I have, that is, in God's service to help other people.
So a rich man can indeed get into the kingdom of heaven, provided that he does not use his wealth, as do most rich people, to live it up, feasting sumptuously every day, living a life of dissipation and gluttony, but rather living simply and using his wealth to help others.
The parable of the unjust steward tells us how we are to use our money. "I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations" (Luke 16:9). This is what we are supposed to do with our wealth: help others with it; using it to make friends for ourselves who will welcome us into heaven. Use it for projects to help other people. Use it especially to support a ministry of preaching the gospel.
If we try to serve both God and mammon, living a luxurious life like this rich glutton who went to hell, we will hear Abraham say to us, when we are in hell, what he said to him, "Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish" (Luke 16:25). That is, you have lived like a rich man, using your money improperly, to live a life of luxury and sumptuous daily feasting, instead of helping others with it, so now you are here in this place of eternal torment. You had your good things in your lifetime, so now you are in anguish. You should have lived simply and used the wealth I gave you properly, to help others. Because you did not, you are now in hell.
"Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation" (Luke 6:24). Is this what we want Jesus say to us on the day of our death? It is not proper to receive our consolation now in a life of worldly pleasures and daily sumptuous feasts that divide our heart from a pure love of God. How much better it would be to hear him say to us, "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20).
Here is how the Lord condemns the rich who use their wealth to live lives of worldly pleasure: "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you ... You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter" (James 5:1, 5).
Amos, in today's first reading, also has strong words to say to those who misuse their wealth to live lives of worldly pleasure and gluttony, while ignoring the service of other people. Remember, it is not wealth in itself, per se, as such, that is being condemned, but the false, selfish, self-centered, worldly misuse of it. Here are Amos's words condemning worldly living: "Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the midst of the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David invent for themselves instruments of music; who drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first of those to go into exile, and the revelry of those who stretch themselves shall pass away" (Amos 6:4-7).
This is how the rich man in today's parable lives, misusing his wealth, living a life of dissipation, dividing his heart, and ignoring other people and their needs.
Let us rather live a simple life, eating simply, and devoting ourselves and what wealth we may have been given by the Lord, beyond our own immediate and simple needs, to him and his ministry. This is the proper use of our wealth and the proper simple way to live.
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