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The Relevance of Riches & Poverty

CHRIST & NEIGHBOR

By John C. Cort | May 1984

“The Gospel seems to treat riches and poverty as irrelevant.” This is the opinion of Michael No­vak, as expressed in his book The Spirit of Demo­cratic Capitalism.

Compare this statement with the following four parables or statements of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I give him the full title because the Gospel takes its authority from him who has the right and authority to rebuke, command, judge, punish, and reward. So what Novak means is, “Jesus Christ seems to treat riches and poverty as irrelevant.” But consider:

(1) The parable of the rich man whose barns were not big enough to hold his crops. He tore them down and built larger ones and said to his soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you.” And Jesus adds, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:15-21). Riches and poverty irrele­vant?

(2) The terrible story of Dives and Lazarus. Dives (Latin for “the rich one”) is what tradition has called him, but Jesus said only, “There was a rich man.” St. Gregory the Great makes the excel­lent point, “In common life the names of the rich are better known than those of the poor. How comes it then that when our Lord has to speak of both, he names the poor man and not the rich? The answer is that God knows and approves the humble but does not know the proud.”

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