If in the twentieth Sundays readings Jesus mentioned the battles and conflicts one must endure to become a disciple, today He gives example of one of the great battles of all time. That is the battle between the rich versus the poor. He gives an example of absurdity to illustrate the point. Mt 19:23-30 A camel has a better chance of passing through a needle, than a rich person has to enter the kingdom of heaven. The first reading Ez 28:1-10 gives evidence of this ancient battle. God gives angry commentary towards those that flaunt their wealth to place themselves amongst their gods. At first Jesus’s dialogue begins to sound like preaching against material wealth, but then as reply to His absurd example He adds; ‘all is possible with God.’ That one phrase is the hope of the wealthy. It is nor their wealth that excludes them from the kingdom, it is the way that wealth destroys them. It becomes how pervasive the damage of wealth can be. Being counted amongst the Rich does not simply refer to finance, it also conveys a description of attitude. It conveys the arrogant, the selfish, and an attitude of royalty or entitlement. So often the wealthy take an attitude that if they achieved financial success, their success is guaranteed in anything. So often it is the wealthy that go about attempting world records, or victory in competitions, or testing fate. So often their confidence drifts towards arrogance, their bankroll clouds their judgement.
Mammon /ˈmæmən/ in the New Testament of the Bible means money or material wealth and is associated with the greedy pursuit of gain. In the Middle Ages it was often personified as a deity and sometimes included in the seven princes of Hell.
In these commentaries about wealth, they should not be viewed with an eye towards modern economics. In most modern economies the rich sit at the top of a pyramid with the other economic classes forming a base there is a range and distribution of wealth even though politics often suggest otherwise. In the ancient world these wealthy did not sit atop a pyramid but were perched atop a pillar. A few with cash, and a multitude in near poverty. A middle class has yet to be discovered. Funny how a pillar resembles a needle, think of the space needle of Seattle. The pyramid is one of the most stable of geometric shapes, and the pillar likely the least stable. Those rich atop their pillars were in a perilous position, though they did not always recognize that. To them they were untouchable and a lofty people perched as close to gods as one can get. Many ancient rulers, who were the richest of the rich, in fact were considered to possess divine powers. Often they forgot they were mere mortals, a perilous mistake. Rich in money, rich in power, rich in ego, poor in grace. In their wealth they did not pray to God for guidance, and they did not bow down for anyone. They did not listen to the people or to God. To them wealth and the accessories it bought provided everything. It became their strength, and therefore their downfall. One cannot serve both God and mammon, they served the latter.
I think of those wealthy fools as the Stylite millionaires. Stylite comes from the Greek stulos which means pillar. Those poles they sat atop “symbolically!” are so similar to the poles they erected to the false gods, they were the high places of worship. Sitting atop lofty perches they worshiped false gods, they became false gods. In contrast to those Stylite millionaires are the ancient Stylite Saints and Stylite hermits. The Stylite Saints and Hermits did not sit atop symbolic pillars, they lived and preached atop genuine pillars preaching and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were early Christian ascetics. A pillar to the community, not separated from it. Their devotion atop a lofty perch countered those rich in high places. The humble service of the Stylite Saints and Hermits countered the arrogance of those in the highest positions of society. Their high place was not one of wealth in money. Those saints did possess an abundance of devotion and of strength gained from their LORD, and that wealth could knock any millionaire back to earth and back into the frays of humanity. That might have been their mission.
In thinking of the rich and the eye of a needle and absurdity and gods and lofty perches, I look at today’s saint who is Stephen of Hungary. He is described as royalty, but not one sitting atop a throne though he did occupy one. He was King “by the grace of God.” In his rule he placed the gospel first and ruled according to its precepts. Faithful to Christs Church, he emphasized humility and Christian virtue, and formed Hungary into a Christian state.. He understood the importance of aiding those in need. I strongly suspect he was a camel that was able to pass through the eye of a needle.