Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and…
went on social media and posted a meme that showed the hypocrisy of the rich fellow and his religion;
got in a cutting last word as the man walked away, then gestured a mic drop;
followed the rich guy down the road, yelling at him about living in a rich people bubble and questioning his sanity;
militated for a law to limit the possessions held by any one person;
organized his disciples to picket the man’s house and boycott his businesses until he agreed to liquidate his holdings and give to the poor.
Bible readers know that Jesus did none of the above. The honest among us might confess to having dabbled in one or more of those behaviors.
The striking thing about this lesson is the non-coercive example set by Jesus. He doesn’t do anything to compel the rich man to do the right thing. He allows him to walk away.
And, although he says some very clear things to his disciples about how riches can keep people out of God’s kingdom, Jesus frames this as concern for the spiritual hardship faced by the affluent. He doesn’t mock the man who walked away, he worries about him and holds out hope that God can overcome the man’s enmeshment in passing possessions.
The culture wars, in which the church has chewed up so much time, treasure and so many people, are based on proving “our side” right and the other wrong. More emphatically, it is a quest to justify our side and demonize theirs or, to put it in secular speak, to demonstrate our enlightened state and their stupidity (or even insanity).
What “victory” can Jesus have when people fight on terms dictated by the world, the flesh and the devil? As St. Paul warned the church,
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:13-15)
The culture wars are yet another mockery of the Eucharist, a “Black Mass” in which we bite and consume others to exalt ourselves as righteous rather than share the bread and the cup that proclaim the self-sacrifice of Christ for sinners, including ourselves and our perceived enemies.