Here’s the first obstacle: Just about everyone reads this story and says, “Who, me?”
We are rich in our hearts. And thus Matthew’s evasive amendment: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” doesn’t soften things nearly enough. In our hearts we’d still like the blessings of security, sufficiency, and a large estate to play in. What’s wrong with that?
There’s nothing obviously wrong with finding an elegant hand-crafted ring that makes the bearer invisible; but when you read _The Lord of the Rings_ and see how the Ring twists people’s minds, you stop thinking of it as a pleasant convenience and recognize it as intrinsically evil.
“Well, that’s just a story. And money doesn’t have to twist our minds! I know some perfectly nice rich people!”
I know perfectly nice people who like to drink too much. Personal factors determine whether they take to parroting talk-radio concepts or merely go heedlessly driving over pedestrians, but there’s no question it’s a barrier between us, and limits them.
“Yes, but poor people aren’t any better than anyone else, and I don’t really have all that much, and people in my family need things too!”
See, where there’s guilt there’s evasion. Maybe there’s even more evasion than there needs to be, because few of us are that guilty. Few of us can imagine, much less actually intend the various horrors that have been routinely inflicted in the process of safeguarding our privileged position. (Which position is not, as we know, an unqualified blessing–but is as hard for us to leave as for an addict to do without his fix.)
Money is a good thing; it helps us escape the painful and crippling effects of poverty, an evil much more common and obviously debilitating. Who can deny this?
Should we strive for moderation? No, recognize the tension. Tension holds us upright against torques that would otherwise flop us forward on our faces or back onto our butts. Awareness of opposing forces helps us balance ourselves in a comfortable position. But it’s hard to sense the forces accurately when one is terrified of falling.
Is this really about “going to Heaven when we die?” Well, no, it isn’t. But it is about Judgement. Our civilization has screwed things up on a vast scale, and continues to harm people on a vast scale, and we shouldn’t either forget that or dwell overmuch on it. When our present way of life collapses–that fall will be our only possible escape from overwhelming, growing evils, and it will also be traumatic. We can do this the easy way–or cling to what we have, and take a hard fall.
The Kingdom is not in the sky. You don’t have to die, you don’t even need to give your money away and go on the streets to get in. But it does cost all you have.
And then you have everything you need. But it’s harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one person to enter the Kingdom alone.