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“Ask a Priest: How can I explain Mark 10:25 to an atheist physics teacher?”
Q: I’m writing to an atheist physics teacher, who thinks that Mark 10:25 (“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”) literally means Christians must all sell our belongings. What would you tell him? Thanks so much! -M.S.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: That the physics teacher is showing so much interest in the words of Our Lord might be a promising sign. The teacher could be searching and deep down not feel satisfied with the answers offered by atheism.
The short answer to the question is no, Jesus is not implying that Christians must sell their belongings. Jesus’ point is that a rich person has to be on guard not to be misled by the lure of wealth.
Many of Jesus’ contemporaries saw wealth as a sign of God’s special favor, which is why Our Lord’s warning rattled them. “They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, ‘Then who can be saved?'” (Mark 10:26). Scripture elsewhere warns, “The love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Timothy 6:10).
Goods are, well, good. They are meant to help us. “The appropriation of property,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches in No. 2402, “is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge.”
No. 2404 states: “‘In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself.’ The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family.”
To restate the basic idea here: Private property is a natural right, but people shouldn’t treat it as something they can do anything with. They should use their property to take care of themselves and their family, yes. But they should also use it prudently for the common good, especially to help the needy. But one shouldn’t forget the poor, to whom Our Lord showed special attention. “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you” (Luke 14:13-14).
It’s true that Jesus calls some people to give up their possessions. “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). But that is a special invitation, say, to people who are called to religious life. Every Christian need not adhere to that standard.
You might try to keep open a dialogue with the physics teacher. Answering his questions with a question can be fruitful. For instance, you might ask him why he has certain interpretations of Scripture. That might help you understand better where he is coming from. Also, he might already have an admiration for the beauty, unity and seeming purpose found in the laws of physics. Who knows? With your prayers and encouragement you can help him see that those laws of physics reflect something of the beauty and unity and infinite wisdom of God. You might suggest that he take a look at the works of Stanley Jaki, a Benedictine priest and physicist. I’ll remember you and your teacher in a Mass intention. God bless you!