The Abridged Version

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 — Week of Proper 29, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 119:145-176 (morning) // 128, 129, 130 (evening)

Obadaiah 12-21

1 Peter 2:1-10

Matthew 19:23-30

I haven’t read all of the first apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis, mainly because it numbers over 200 pages. I expect that many people will, like myself, rely on a few quotes for the gist of the pope’s message about economic injustice and “unfettered capitalism.” Of course, an easier way to hear the same core message is to read our gospel for today.

This morning, Jesus delivers some short and sharp teaching on cumulative wealth. He says, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Some of you may have heard a fantastical interpretation of this passage, which claims that Jesus was referring to a city gate—perhaps known as the Needle Gate—which would have been difficult indeed for a laden camel to pass through. But this piece of exegetical gymnastics is nothing but an effort to contort our way into the kingdom of heaven. It won’t get a camel through a needle’s eye.

Pope Francis is more long-winded than Jesus on this point that the rich can enter the kingdom of heaven only with great difficulty. He writes, “As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.” In other words, we are all kept from the kingdom of God—from the world the God intends and desires—when the accumulation of wealth is the world’s governing principle.

Jesus envisions a reversal of the economic order, a world in which “many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” At the very least, Pope Francis asks the powerful to provide a base line of health and opportunity for those who are least in this world. He calls on both government and financial leaders to “ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education, and healthcare.”

Our gospel for this morning is the abridged version of the pope’s statement, but Pope Francis has at least gotten the gospel message out of our morning reflections and into the morning papers. How can our own lives proclaim this basic message that economic inequality blocks the entrance to the kingdom of heaven?

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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