"But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort." (Luke 6: 24)
Why did Jesus utter these strong words? Was he against the rich, or was this an isolated utterance that we shouldn’t take too seriously? In answer let us try to understand other sayings by Jesus that might be connected to the burden of riches. Two encounters with rich men recorded in the New Testament are important.
The first is of Jesus meeting a rich young man who wanted to know how to inherit eternal life. This young man told Jesus that he had kept all the commandments and led a sound moral life. But Jesus told him that he lacked one thing. To inherit eternal life Jesus told the young man he needed to sell all that he had and give to the poor. The young man was devastated. He had great wealth. He could not give it up. Jesus told his disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.
The second example is the encounter between Zaccheus the tax collector and Jesus. This encounter was contrary to the earlier one. After Jesus stayed with Zaccheus the tax collector’s lifestyle was changed and he was willing to give back much more than what he has taken unlawfully. On his own, he promised Jesus to give half of his wealth to the poor.
When we compare and contrast these two encounters it is not difficult to understand what Jesus wanted rich people to do. In both these stories it is clear that Jesus was concerned about rich people and he loved them. His concern was two-fold. First, he was concerned for the people themselves. He saw how rich people are attached to their wealth and that this prevents them from understanding the more important things in life. Secondly, he was concerned about the poor people who had to be poor because of these very rich people. Jesus proclaimed salvation to both these groups.
In a way, Jesus was more concerned about rich people because he saw how they couldn’t understand eternal truths because of their craving for wealth, which is temporal.
These Bible passages clearly show us that Jesus never wanted his followers to be rich; not to possess more than necessary to live. Jesus did not want us to acquire wealth to the extent that we deny basic human necessities to others in society.
Therefore, as individuals, families, churches, and countries, it is our responsibility to ask whether our dealings are denying the basic human rights of other people. As Christians, this is not only a moral responsibility but is also a Christian responsibility in general.
Therefore let us keep this saying of Jesus in our hearts and minds:".. woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort." Luke 6: 24
Let us ask God to give us his grace to use our earthly wealth in a way that would not hinder the eternal truths.