Possessed by possessions

GOD'S WORD TODAY - Ruben M. Tanseco S.J. - The Philippine Star

Today’s Gospel reading has a significant relevance to many of us, Christians, who are sincerely making efforts in being disciples of Christ. Like that man who approached Jesus and asked what more he could do to inherit eternal life, many of us, like him, are already following God’s law by not committing murder, adultery, theft; by not bearing false witness or defrauding; and by loving our families. What more can we do to be assured of being with him forever after our mortal death?

This is where he addresses those among us who have been gifted with material wealth and riches, which are both a God-given privilege as well as responsibility. But human as we are, many of those who are materially wealthy get inordinately attached to their privilege of being wealthy, and discard their responsibility to God and God’s people. They allow themselves to be possessed by their possessions rather than surrender themselves to be possessed by God, and God’s designs for humanity.

There is nothing wrong with material wealth per se. In fact, it is an intrinsic part of God’s creation, which is meant for the common good of God’s people. For the good of all, and not just for some. This is the inescapable responsibility of the rich and wealthy. And the more they become faithful to this responsibility, the closer they become to God, here and hereafter.

It is in this context that I must once again repeat what I have previously described as the Christian lifestyle of Stewardship, Simplicity and Sharing. First of all, we are not the owners of our own lives and possessions. God owns us, whoever we are and whatever we have. That super-rich man may suddenly die next week or next month, leaving all his material possessions behind. Quite often, the surviving spouse and children even quarrel over his material possessions. Again, we are simply God’s stewards, caretakers, administrators. In our prayer life, we must consult the Lord and discern how he would want us to use our possessions. If we truly listen to him in prayer, he will surely lead us to a more simple lifestyle, and this applies especially to the wealthy. They will then have much more than their personal and family needs, and this is what they are missioned by God to share with those who have less or nothing at all. This is so relevant, even crucial, in our country today, where the material wealth nationwide is under the ownership and control of a small minority, and the great majority of our people are materially poor, many of whom are literally destitute.

As a nation, we are Christian in name, but still very far from what that really means. A more equitable distribution of God’s resources is his will, and it deserves no less than an EDSA 3, in some form or another.

Forbes Asia recently named the 40 wealthiest men in our country, and 15 of them are billionaires. I am certain that in their own ways, they have been contributing and donating to projects and programs for the poor. But considering the national situation, my faith tells me that the Lord wants them to give and share MUCH MORE. The material gap between them and the poor is just too big. This is very far from God’s design for the common good of his people.

Moreover, no less than three Presidents of the Philippines have been accused of plunder and corruption. Indeed, the love of money corrupts. When we become inordinately attached to material riches, that is the beginning of the end. Our first and foremost attachment must be an unconditional attachment to God, who loves us unconditionally. God is the only Absolute. Everything else is relative. Everything!

A story is told of a tourist from America who paid a visit to a well-known Jewish rabbi. The tourist was astonished to see that the rabbi’s house was only a simple room filled with books, plus a table and a bench. “Rabbi,” asked the tourist, “where is your furniture?” “Where is yours?” replied the rabbi. “Mine?” asked the puzzled American. “But I am only a visitor here. I’m only passing through.” And the rabbi said, “So am I.”

So are we all. We are just passing through. Let us ceaselessly pray and work hard to live by what Christ is missioning us to do in today’s Gospel reading, especially we who belong to the institutional Church. Those of us who belong to religious orders and congregations have much more that we can do in this regard, particularly because we have a vow of poverty, and we live and work in the Philippines, where the majority of our people are very poor.

Lord, please continue to guide us where you want us to go, and what more you want us to do. The urgency for national reform is so clear. Draw us closer to you, that we may discern and receive the courage and strength that we need. Amen.

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