By REV. LUNA L. DINGAYAN
“Sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me.” – Luke 18:22
Story of a Rich Man
Our Biblical story found in Luke 18:18-20 is about a Jewish leader, a rich man, who came to Jesus one day and asked him a very important question: What must I do to receive eternal life? Jesus responded by also asking him whether or not the Rich Man knew the commandments of God. The Rich Man recited very easily the commandments and even proudly informed Jesus that he had obeyed all these commandments since he was young.
Upon hearing these words, Jesus noticed that there was something lacking in this man. And so, Jesus told him to sell all he had and to give the money to the poor, then follow Jesus. The Rich Man became very sad because he was very rich.
Reflecting on the political events happening in our country today in the light of our Scripture lesson, I come to realize two conflicting realities at the center of our life as a people. On the one hand, we have the love for power; but on the other hand, we also have the power of love.
I would like, therefore, to reflect on these two realities of life in the light of our Scripture lesson: The Love for Power and the Power of Love.
Love for Power
First: the love for power. The Rich Man in our text became very sad after listening to Jesus because his life was so consumed by a great desire for more and more wealth. He probably spent his whole life amassing a great amount of wealth for himself. He might have numerous secret accounts in many banks. Or, he might have many mansions for himself and for his wives and mistresses.
For him, wealth or money means power and security. If you have billions of money you can buy people’s votes during election time and you can be the president of a republic. You can hire people to kill those who are opposing you. Or, hire public relations people to destroy your political opponents and enhance your chances of winning an election. Indeed, wealth is power. The Rich Man could not just give away his wealth, because he could not afford to lose his power and security. It is interesting to note however that the love for power is very much part of our being human. We could perhaps see ourselves in the Rich Man.
Perhaps, one of the most enduring lessons we could learn from the recent events in our national life is the realization that our society, our social relation as a people, is permeated by this great love or craving for power.
The love for power worships the god of death. It destroys life. It leads to death and destruction. It distorts the image of the Living God in us and among us. The history of the human race is marred by the struggles of people who are trying to outdo each other. They do everything they could to reach the top and to lord it over their fellow human beings, even if innocent and poor people are sacrificed in the process.
The rise and fall of nations, kingdoms, and empires could be traced to this human craving for power. It is this love for power that brought military rulers, dictators, and tyrants to their thrones. It is this love for power that claimed the lives of countless martyrs that led nations to ruin and innocent children to starvation and death. It is also this love for power that is continuously dividing the church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The Rich Man in our Biblical story, though he claimed to have obeyed all the commandments, realized the emptiness of his own life. Indeed, his life was empty and meaningless because it was anchored in this selfish desire and craving for power. It was at this point that Jesus clearly indicated that the essence of life is found not in the love for power, but in the power of love.
Power of Love
Jesus said to the Rich Man, “Sell all you have and give the money to the poor and you will have riches in heaven. Then, come and follow me”.
For Jesus, the meaning and fulfillment of life is found in having that kind of love so powerful that we are willing to share what we are and what we have to those in need. This means that real power comes not by amassing more and more wealth at the expense of many, not in the love for power that brings death and destruction to innocent people; but rather, the real power comes to us when we share what we have and what we are to others in need. This is what genuine people’s power is all about.
To be powerful, therefore, is to be powerless. This is the paradox of the Christian Gospel that has turned the world upside down with the right side up. The fullness of life does not come when we think we already have everything in life. We must have to empty ourselves in order to receive the fullness of God. Emptying ourselves for God means the emptying of ourselves of that love for power, of that evil desire and craving to make ourselves the very center of the world. This is what Jesus meant when he said: “He who finds life shall lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake shall find it.”
The riches in heaven Jesus spoke of is not the riches of material wealth, but rather the riches of being truly human. And we can only be truly human by making others more human. And we can only make others more human by sharing to them what we are and what we have.
Several decades ago, the United Nations signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unfortunately, since then those countries, like ours, that signed the document continues to violate its sacred provisions.
In a society where the value of human life becomes less and less, the challenge to be truly human is becoming more and more central in our faith and practice. There is a need for us to respond to this challenge, not only because it is written in the pages of the Scriptures nor in the documents of the United Nations, but more so because here lies the survival of the human race. A poster produced by political detainees is right when it says: The moment we stop burning with love, people will die in the cold.
The task before us, therefore, is to transform this love or craving for power in us and among us into powerful deeds of love. This is not an easy task, indeed. Jesus himself recognized the difficulty. “It is much harder”, he said, “for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” Biblical scholars say that Jesus got the analogy from the picture of a camel struggling to enter through a small gate in Jerusalem called the “Eye of a Needle”. The camel had to stoop down in order to enter the gate.
Similarly, the gate to the Kingdom of God is like the “Eye of a Needle”. It is very small, that we have to stoop down and drop some of our baggage in order to enter into it. This would mean that we have to humble ourselves, to deny ourselves, to empty ourselves of that evil desire and intense craving for power. Indeed, we must have in us and among us the power of love.
Perhaps, from our own human point of view, this might be impossible to happen, but Jesus reminds us saying: “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” #nordis.net