A few years ago I tweeted: “If attaining wealth and power is your life’s purpose, you will bankrupt your soul in their pursuit.” This was a thought I had from seeing some people I knew who were striving for status items that were clearly beyond their reach. They were wonderful people, but their expectations were way beyond reason. I felt they were being blindsided by our culture that tells us not only are these things -designer clothing, jewelry, luxury cars, mansions, etc. attainable to everyone, but also that they are worth pursuing. A Twitter follower replied back something to the effect that –only those without money, talk about how bad it is. I laughed to myself as I thought, well I certainly fit into the first part of his tweet.
In today’s first reading at Mass, St. James lights into the 1% of his time:
“Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” (James 5: 1-4)
Those are pretty harsh words for the rich, but I’m not condemning the wealthy here. I’m questioning the motivation for, and the attainment of extraordinary wealth, at the expense of others. Jesus says: “Again I say to you it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24) But, he didn’t say it was impossible.
And so, I think it comes down to a matter of motivation and attitude. There are many wealthy people in the world today, who attained their wealth through a passion of something else, not simply the pursuit of cash and shiny things. I think of Bill Gates, Bono, maybe even Warren Buffet. I believe they pursued their particular passions, -technology, music, making a deal, and in that successful pursuit, they became abundantly wealthy. And to demonstrate that wealth was not their ultimate goal, they are giving away vast sums of money to various causes.
I look at the reading from James today not just as a warning to the wealthy, but an admonition to the rest of us in the 99%, to not make, making money our life’s pursuit. Our modern culture and Madison Avenue advertisers would like us to believe otherwise. They desperately try to brainwash us into thinking that it’s possible that we all drive BMW’s and wear TAG Heuer watches; and that ultimately, doing so it will make us happy. The truth is, following our passion, and sharing what we have through our time and treasure -limited as it may be, is the real road to a happy life. Let the 1%, hoarding their earthly treasures, worry about squeezing through that eye of the needle.