The whole eye-of-the-needle message isn’t just for people with big balance sheets and vacation houses. All of us can do with at least some shifting in priorities in our lives.
By Ken Foye
9 October 2021
To put it mildly, I’m not a rich man and at the rate I’m going, I never will be. At 54 years old, I have never made more than $60,000 a year in my life. And I’m completely fine with that. One day when I was in middle school, my father told me that he expected that I would find myself in a career more focused on enjoyment and personal fulfillment than on raking in the big bucks. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with the latter sort of career or with those who pursue one, but it just wasn’t for me.
On the surface, then, Christ’s words in Mark 10:21-25, which are found in the Gospel reading at Mass this coming weekend, don’t seem to apply to someone like me. “Sell what you have and give to the poor,” Christ says to the rich man who has scrupulously observed the legalities of the commandments of Moses, “and then follow me.” These words are just as aimed at me as they are at any fat-cat Wall Street banker or corporate CEO, though – because in a broader sense, I don’t think Christ was only talking about tangible wealth.
In the Old Testament, with which Mark 10 must be contrasted in order to gain a fuller contextual understanding of it, those with wealth and possessions were seen as being blessed and favored by God (Ps. 128:1-2; Is. 3:10) – a “prosperity Gospel” of sorts, preached at least several hundred years before the writing of the actual Gospels. While the Old Testament stresses charity just as the New does (Is. 58:7, Prov. 19:17, Deut. 15), those in need of charity weren’t seen as being blessed or cared for by God the way the wealthy were. Christ turns this mentality upside-down: the poor and needy are actually blessed by God (e.g. Lk. 6:20-21; Lk. 16:19-31; Mk. 12:41-44), while being materially rich is not the sign of God’s favor that it was previously thought to be (Lk. 6:24-25).
Lots of things in this world can pull us away from God. For the rich man in Mark 10, of course, it was his excessive love of money and material possessions, which he didn’t want to give up or put to use for the benefit of the materially less fortunate. And what about us, who are among the great majority of people who aren’t rich? What do we pursue or focus on excessively in our lives to a point that we allow them to keep us from God?
Come, let us count the ways. How many of us can quote all sorts of lines from all sorts of movies, but have a great deal more trouble quoting Scripture verses? A lot of us can rattle off the names of our favorite film stars and all of the movies they’ve starred in during their careers, but would be hard-pressed to quickly rattle off the names of the Twelve. No doubt a great many of us can perfectly sing the words to our favorite songs without a lyrics sheet or a karaoke machine screen – but are woefully unfamiliar with the writings of the great theologians. A lot of us on experts on our favorite sports teams and athletes – we know by heart all the player’s uniform numbers, their statistics, how many times they’ve been champions, and all the rest – but we’re much less knowledgeable of the lives of the saints. Many of us devote a substantial amount of time, energy, and money in our recreational pursuits – binging on sites like Netflix and YouTube seems to be one of the increasingly common ones lately – but do we overemphasize them at the expense of our prayer life?
And perhaps most important of all, most of us are probably quite skilled at our jobs. We know them inside and out; we’ve spent a great deal of time, effort, and money acquiring the skills and knowledge necessary and relevant to our occupations; and we keenly keep ourselves up to speed on all of the latest trends and new development in the industries in which we work. This is not bad at all in and of itself – we do have to support ourselves and our families, and the jobs that we perform and the revenues they generate contribute vitally to society and the economy. But would we be even half as good at being able to engage in Catholic apologetics, if put on the spot to explain and defend the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Church and why the Church holds them? As necessary as our economic and occupational activities are, our Faith yields the most important and most life-giving currency of all.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying things like film, sports, or music, or in achieving personal satisfaction (and even monetary reward) at work. When they become too dominant in our lives and occupy too high of a place on our priority list, though, they can serve as just as much of a barrier to Heaven and to truly following Christ as the rich man’s wealth in Mark 10:21-25. There are times – unfortunately and unfairly, at least in my humble view – that this Gospel passage is used to “bash” rich people. “Christ held the rich in disdain” was how one social-media keyboard-warrior put it in a post I recently came across. We should always be very cautious in making such presumptions about Christ’s thoughts or opinions, with regard to rich people or any other subject – after all, even the men who spent three years in His company often didn’t read Him right. What’s more, we should take His “judge not, lest you be judged” teaching to heart, and put our own spiritual and moral lives in the best order we can before looking down on anyone else, including the rich – maybe even especially the rich, since they are such an easy target for our virtue-signaling.
Eye-of-The-Needle: It Isn’t Just About Money
So, the whole eye-of-the-needle message isn’t just for people with big balance sheets and vacation houses. All of us can do with at least some shifting in priorities in our lives in order to become more fervent Catholics. There are so many things in modern life that so easily attract us that we too readily set God aside, if not forget about Him altogether. So we should make conscious efforts – through increased prayer, spiritual reading, acts of charity, and other acts that are visibly and tangibly Catholic – to follow Christ more closely. It’s not easy, but as the Gospel reading this weekend says, nothing is impossible with God.
Ken Foye is an American Catholic living in the northern Japanese city of Hakodate, where he teaches English at Hokkaido University of Education. He reverted to the Faith while in Japan after many years as a lapsed Catholic, and is married to a Japanese convert to Catholicism. He has contributed to the Catholic publication OnePeterFive and prays the Rosary daily as a member of the World Apostolate of Fatima.