Greed, materialism, lust for power. All are folly, according to Jesus. Read about His incredible lesson in humility!
Read this third piece by contributing writer, Dan Doyle, in his series about the Sermon on the Mount. If you missed the first or second installments, please read Part I or Part II now. You can also read Part IV now.
Sermon on the Mount: Part III
“But alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now. Alas for you who have your fill now: you shall go hungry. Alas for you who laugh now: you shall mourn and weep. Alas for you when the world speaks well of you! This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.”
This passage goes against everything that our culture praises, just as it did 2,000 years ago in Israel. According to the world, wealth and possessions of every kind say that we have made it, that we are among the elite, that we, somehow, are among the chosen.
2,000 years after the Sermon on the Mount, our culture still preaches that immediate gratification, pleasure seeking, and pain avoidance are the true purposes of life. But what an ephemeral gospel this is. It paints the clamor for personal aggrandizement as the good news of this life.
But the Gospel of Jesus preaches the exact opposite of this. Jesus models the way to joy for us in His very incarnation. He did not hold on to divinity, he let go of it to become one of us. (Phil. 2) He did not hold on to His life for the sake of self-preservation, rather, he gave it up for all of us. He did not come as a king, but as the son of a poor family. This is counter to everything the culture teaches.
Jesus is not damning the rich and the satisfied here, He’s trying to get them to see that they are condemning themselves through their selfishness, greed, and inordinate desires for power. He’s trying to give them the insight that money, the possession of things, recognition, are not evil in and of themselves, but that when we think of those things as the ultimate ends of this life, when we let them control the totality of our existence, they become dangerous to our souls and to the well-being of others.
What is it that God wants us to do with our lives? He wants us to serve others, to make a difference for the good, the true, and the beautiful in the world. The real truth that too often evades us is that we are happiest when we give freely from our time, our talents, and our substance, without expecting anything in return. Jesus, again, is the model here.
When we think that wealth in and of itself is the only value; when we think that things make us valuable; when we think ourselves more important than others simply because we have more than others, we have lost sight of our truest nature. Indeed, we have lost our way, turned our backs on God. It may be that we are “happy” for the moment, that we can gratify our desires with ease whenever we wish to, that we do not suffer the pangs of physical hunger, and we enjoy the praise of our peers, no matter its motivation, but all of this is mere, temporary, finite pleasure. It is not eternal. The irony, of course, is that in the end, if we continue to cling to things and ephemeral, passing pleasures, we will lose that which is most precious, most priceless, our very souls.
In the end, then, neither our fame, nor our titles, nor our gold will save us. Only our freely willed choice to know, love and serve God and our brothers and sisters in this world will gain us the treasure we most desire in the depths of our souls; eternal life in the presence of God in his heavenly Kingdom.