There is principally nothing wrong with money or wealth per se. It can be a good thing, and it can be a bad thing. But it is actually neutral. Just like temper. It can make us realize our need to control our emotions and not let them get the better of us, or we can let it control us, where we can end up abusing those around us in various ways.
Is there a prosperity gospel? There could well be, but it certainly was not one that was preached by Jesus Christ, and it certainly was not written by any of the four evangelists. Jesus’ good news, or gospel, was one that in fact dared to broach the necessity of facing poverty in our lives in a way that makes no sense to our drive for ego-fulfilling ambition, success and accumulation. Jesus knew that the only way to die well was to do it without holding on to anything, so that we can fully hold on to the love and mercy of God. Anyone looking at the beatitudes of Christ would be hard pressed to find within those pithy statements a message of wealth and accumulated assets and success.
What can wealth blind us to? We only need to look at the story of the rich man (Dives, in the Latin Vulgate) and Lazarus, found in Luke 16:19-31. Here we see an imagery of what riches can blind us to. In that story, Dives was blinded to the very presence and person of Lazarus who was languishing at the gate of his house. Yet, we are told that it was after he died that he saw Lazarus ‘far off’, in the bosom of Abraham. Apparently, there seems to be a sudden ability to see so well after death, the very things that were right in front of our eyes when we were alive. Dives couldn’t see Lazarus when he was alive, with him lying at his gate, but when death came, it seemed that his eyes were open enough to see him ‘far off’. It must mean that death, often called the great leveler, also gives us the ability to see not just others, but ourselves as we truly are, and as others truly are as well. In this life, we play all sorts of games where we often hide so much.
If wealth blinds, does this mean then that poverty gives one 6/6 (or 20/20) vision? Not necessarily. There are many people in dire poverty who are living just as unenlightened lives, who are just as blind or who are have ill intentions of skimming the plenty from those who have more than they in immoral and illegal ways, or who have revenge as their agenda in life. Much as it may not be right to preach a gospel of prosperity, it would be just as naïve to preach a gospel of living in abject poverty thinking that just by a physical and material relinquishing, we will automatically come closer to Christ.
The Social Teachings of our rich Catholic history, all the way from the Fathers of the Church to current times, have extolled the virtue of a preferential option for the poor. When we develop an option for the poor, it does what an angioplasty does for the arteries – it makes our blood flow better to our heart, bringing health and vitality to the weakened heart, and it makes compassion for Christ in the poor a compelling, and almost a besetting act. Somehow, the opposite happens when all our focus is honed in to amassing our personal wealth and hoarding our stash. That is indeed the crux of the problem – when our thirst for wealth makes us covetous. That border between the two (amassing personal wealth and being covetous) is so fine that it is often imperceptible, and it is often based on the fallacy that there is never enough, and more is always better.
Jesus preached against covetousness in Luke 12:13-21. Here, Jesus doesn’t condemn riches. What he does is denounce and berate the self-preserving and self-centeredness that is found in each one of us. Notice that verse 13 begins with a man asking Jesus to tell his brother to divide the family inheritance with him. The response from Jesus could well have been very different if he had asked Jesus to get his brother to share the family inheritance with the poor.
If our wealth has blinded us from seeing the various Lazarus’s at our gates, perhaps what we need to do is to check often enough who may be lying there. And if we don’t see anyone there, we may in fact be lying to ourselves.