July 11, 2016

As Jesus travelled from Galilee to Jerusalem, the crowd following him grew in number. One time, someone approached him and said, "I will follow you wherever you go."

Perhaps we are like that too. Drawn by Jesus' personal magnetism or by the truth of the Gospel, we believe we are ready to go anywhere with him.

Jesus, however, issues a caution. "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Luke 9.57-58). This is a life of strict poverty - not strict in the sense that someone imposed it on Jesus, but strict in that he has no worldly possessions. None.

Over the course of history, few people have been drawn to a life completely lacking in material possessions, absolutely bereft of material security.

This "lifestyle" can be seen in St. Anthony of the Desert, St. Francis of Assisi and Mohandas Gandhi. They realized that acquiring possessions pits one person against another. It leads to worker exploitation and eventually to war.

Far more people are drawn to the quest for affluence; virtually all of us yearn for material security and for at least the basic creature comforts. Not a few of us relish an occasional dram of well-aged Scotch. We see creature comforts and the acquisition of material goods as the road to happiness. We fail to see, or refuse to see, that our comfort is based on the enslavement of others.

In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI, debunks the notions that God rewards the morally righteous with material wealth and that he punishes the unrighteous by throwing them into poverty.

Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. - Luke 9.57-58

'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.'

Luke 9.57-58

Just the opposite. "Israel recognizes that its poverty is exactly what brings it close to God; it recognizes that the poor in their humility are close to God's heart," Pope Benedict wrote.

Material poverty can give birth to the spiritual poverty which is the basis of inner freedom. Paradoxically, those who strive for material wealth often end up in chains. Their time and their souls are not their own.

Pope Benedict draws the sad consequences of our materialistic hunger: "As we witness the abuse of economic power, as we witness the cruelties of a capitalism that degrades man to the level of merchandise, we have also realized the perils of wealth, and we have gained a new appreciation of what Jesus meant when he warned of riches, of the man-destroying divinity Mammon, which grips large parts of the world in a cruel stranglehold."

Gandhi, like Jesus, lived a life consistent with the principle of doing no harm to others. When Gandhi died, he owned only an extra loincloth, a pair of eyeglasses, a shawl and a pen. He saw the capitalist system as inherently violent, and owning possessions as complicity with violence and economic exploitation.


For Gandhi, we too easily accept social norms and the economic and political system without even reflecting on the consequences of our participation in those systems. If we reflected, we would begin to see our personal responsibility to work for the dignity of all. Part of that responsibility is to live a life with as few possessions as possible.

When Jesus sent out the Twelve, he gave them instructions: "You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold or silver or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff" (Matthew 10.8-9). Go with empty hands; return the same way.

"I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves," Jesus continued (10.16). Not only will you have no financial security, you will be beaten and perhaps even put to death. But do not respond to violence with violence.


Anxiety is unnecessary because God will hold us safe. "Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

"Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (6.25-26). Do we believe that Jesus is correct, that the Father will ensure our material needs are met?

Jesus was always the friend of the poor, of those who have nothing. He was poor himself. He knew that the one who seeks to pile up possessions and build material security is not relying on God. You cannot have it both ways. Make your choice: God or Mammon.