Contra Fr. Longenecker on Wealth and Sacrifice

In this post, Do the wealthy go to Hell?, Fr. Dwight Longenecker distorts the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel on the path to eternal life.

‘Why are we commanded (it’s not an option) to give sacrificially to the work of the Church? … In the Gospel a rich young man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers, “Sell all that you have and give to the poor.” Look closely. The primary reason is NOT so the poor will have food and shelter. The primary reason for the command is that the man will be able to inherit eternal life.’

Fr. Longenecker is lying to his readers. He claims, falsely, that Jesus told the rich man that he must sell everything and give to the poor in order to inherit eternal life. In fact, Longenecker is distorting the Gospel by excising an important set of verses between the rich man’s question and what Jesus actually said. Read the text in Luke and Matthew for yourself.

[Luke]
{18:18} And a certain leader questioned him, saying: “Good teacher, what should I do to possess eternal life?”
{18:19} Then Jesus said to him: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
{18:20} You know the commandments: You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony. Honor your father and mother.”
{18:21} And he said, “I have kept all these things from my youth.”

{18:22} And when Jesus heard this, he said to him: “One thing is still lacking for you. Sell all the things that you have, and give to the poor. And then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.”
{18:23} When he heard this, he became very sorrowful. For he was very rich.
{18:24} Then Jesus, seeing him brought to sorrow, said: “How difficult it is for those who have money to enter into the kingdom of God!
{18:25} For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a wealthy man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
{18:26} And those who were listening to this said, “Then who is able to be saved?”
{18:27} He said to them, “Things that are impossible with men are possible with God.”

[Matthew]
{19:16} And behold, someone approached and said to him, “Good Teacher, what good should I do, so that I may have eternal life?”
{19:17} And he said to him: “Why do you question me about what is good? One is good: God. But if you wish to enter into life, observe the commandments.”
{19:18} He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said: “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony.
{19:19} Honor your father and your mother. And, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
{19:20} The young man said to him: “All these I have kept from my childhood. What is still lacking for me?”

{19:21} Jesus said to him: “If you are willing to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.”
{19:22} And when the young man had heard this word, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
{19:23} Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, I say to you, that the wealthy shall enter with difficulty into the kingdom of heaven.
{19:24} And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for the wealthy to enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
{19:25} And upon hearing this, the disciples wondered greatly, saying: “Then who will be able to be saved?”
{19:26} But Jesus, gazing at them, said to them: “With men, this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.”

Contrary to the lie told to his readers by Fr. Longenecker, Jesus actually answers the question on eternal life by telling the rich man to keep the Commandments. Everyone who truly loves his neighbor, and who avoids (or at least repents) from all actual mortal sin, will have eternal life in Heaven. Love God and neighbor. Do good. Avoid doing evil. Repent from any evil you have done. That is the path to Heaven.

Then the rich man asks a second question, after being told the path to eternal life, which he was already following. Jesus adds: “If you are willing to be perfect”, then sell everything, give to the poor, and follow Jesus. But the man was not willing. Supposing that the man continued to observe the Commandments, just as Jesus said, then he would still have eternal life.

Fr. Longenecker’s claim is a substantial distortion of the Gospel. He removes the section on keeping the Commandments, and then he makes it seem as if Jesus answered the question on what one must do to have eternal life with nothing other than almsgiving.

‘In the Gospel a rich young man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers, “Sell all that you have and give to the poor.” ‘

That is not the answer that Jesus gave to that question. Fr. Longenecker excises Jesus’ actual answer to the question on eternal life, and then he substitutes Jesus’ answer on what the man needed to be perfect.

And notice that Jesus said to sell ALL that you have. Do you really think that the minimum to enter Heaven is to give all you have to the poor? Fr. Longenecker also omits the part where Jesus adds: “And come, follow me.” It is reprehensible for a priest, in writing about the words of Jesus on salvation, to distort the teaching of Jesus to such a severe extent.

Jesus also says that, though it is difficult for a rich man to enter Heaven, with God it is possible. Fr. Longenecker distorts this teaching also, by claiming that “we have to draw the conclusion from the Gospel that if you are rich and you are not sacrificially generous then you will go to hell.” In fact, that conclusion is drawn only from a severe distortion of the Gospel.

Yes, almsgiving is required, of those who are able, and to refuse, especially for those who are wealthy, can be an actual mortal sin of omission. But the terms “wealthy” and “sacrificially generous” is not an accurate description of that requirement of the eternal moral law. Not the wealthy alone, but everyone who is able, is required to give to those in need. And money is not the only way to give. And we should give, not only to the Church, but to persons in need outside the Church.

Then, for those who are wealthy, the minimum to avoid actual mortal sin is not to be “sacrificially generous” — that is a description of the perfection to which Jesus calls us, but not a minimum to avoid Hell.

Why did this priest publish such a severe distortion, and really just a blatant lie, about the words of Jesus on salvation? It is because he wants his readers to give more money to the Church. Is it “sacrificially generous” to pervert the Gospel message, so as to claim that only those wealthy persons who give generously to the Church can avoid Hell? Fr. Longenecker makes the good point in his post that you can’t serve two masters, God and money. But ironically, his post offends God by severely distorting the teaching of the Son of God, in order to get more money for the Church. He is serving money, not God, by his sinful post.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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