The Perspective of Justice
The rich man wants to have it both ways: he wants his possessions and he wants everlasting life. Jesus shatters his illusion; you can’t have both, Jesus says. The rich man goes away sad, prompting Jesus to comment on the difficulty of being rich and entering the kingdom.
There is more to this story than renunciation of material possessions, for Jesus does not tell the man simply to get rid of his possessions: he must sell them and give to the poor. The point of the command is the acknowledgment of the priority of people and their needs over the satisfaction provided by the ownership of things.
This is “God’s word (that) is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword,” and this is the spirit of Wisdom of which the first reading speaks: we are to value each other as if we were prime possessions, and the promise of everlasting life is made to those who have the power to give all they have to their brothers and sisters, especially those most in need.
Then who can be saved? Those whose love for God expresses itself in eagerness to do good for others.
Neither individuals nor nations should regard the possession of more and more goods as the ultimate objective. Every kind of progress is a two-edged sword. It is necessary if man is to grow as a human being; yet it can also enslave him, if he comes to regard it as the supreme good and cannot look beyond it. When this happens, men harden their hearts, shut out others from their minds and gather together solely for reasons of self-interest rather than out of friendship; dissension and disunity follow soon after.
Thus the exclusive pursuit of material possessions prevents man's growth as a human being and stands in opposition to his true grandeur. Avarice, in individuals and in nations, is the most obvious form of stultified moral development.
Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio,1967: 19
**From Saint Louis University