And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
A story is told of a rich young man who ran to Jesus and asked what he was to do in order to inherit eternal life. He called Jesus ‘Good teacher’ and Jesus responded by first correcting him, that no one is good except God alone. That’s humility right there! Philippians 2 comes to play in the life of God incarnate – He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped!
Jesus’ humility aside, His answer to this young man who is interested in inheriting eternal life is contrary to popular opinion, disturbing and astonishing to human ears. The rich young man had managed to keep the law, according to his own fickle understanding. He had not murdered, committed adultery, stolen, borne false witness, defrauded or dishonored his father and mother. He had such confidence from keeping the law!
But Jesus told him that he lacked one thing. ‘…go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ From the interpretation of the scripture above, this guy was rich and had gotten attached to his wealth, sadly so. But how are wealth and eternal life connected? Why did Jesus require the man to sell his possessions in order to enter His kingdom?
The irony lies in the fact that the man thought he had kept the law, yet the second part of the commandment, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’, (Mark 12: 30-31) was hard to practice evident in the fact that he got disheartened after being told to sell his possession and give to the poor. If loving his neighbor was this hard, how much more loving God? The folly of self-righteousness!
Jesus continued explaining to His disciples saying it was difficult for those who have wealth to enter His kingdom. Of course, this is contrary to what the ‘man of God’ next door has taught you, that great possession is to validate your Christianity and act as evidence of God’s blessings. Jesus didn’t stop there. He said something that’s quite difficult to wrap my mind around. ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God’. This is the punchline in this text. At least for me.
But doesn’t everyone desire wealth and great possession? I’ll tell you the story of how my conversation with a taxify driver went just recently, another day. I’ll not mention how for a moment I desired to have a car, register it with uber, taxify and little cab so that I reap the profits this driver mentioned he was earning. I’ll not even tell you the frustration I felt out of the realization that I could only dream about it, at least for now!
We are not the only ones who get shocked at the words of Jesus. The disciples were also amazed. We are certainly in good company! And guess what? Jesus did not hesitate to repeat what He had just said. He wasn’t mincing any of His words. What He said was as true as the fact that God exists! Now this second time the disciples were exceedingly astonished. I imagine it’s the kind of astonishment filled with fear and not awe.
Who then, will enter the kingdom of God? I mean, these conditions are tough! The words of Jesus prompted the question ‘Then who can be saved?’ from the disciples. Jesus’ reply is such a comfort! With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.’ Indeed, salvation is a work of God. Based on the qualification for belonging to God’s kingdom put forward by Jesus in this text, we are all disqualified. Don’t we know our hearts? How greedy we are, and prone to lay our treasures here on earth? Isn’t it comforting then, to see that salvation belongs to God since given a chance we’d choose wealth in His place?
Not only so, but this also challenges the confidence with which the rich young man had approached Jesus. A confidence stemming from keeping the law, going by the books. Clearly, even this could not save him. His heart and affections were still not yielded to Christ!
Praise God, in Luke 19 it becomes possible for a rich man to be saved! Zacchaeus the tax-collector, by God’s grace, heeded to the gospel, repented, gave half of his possession to the poor and restituted all that he had acquired through deceptive dealings. Jesus called him a son of Abraham. He had responded in faith!
Peter probably wondered how complex things would get. Hence, he went ahead and asked about them, the disciples who had left everything and followed Him. Most assuredly Jesus replied, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Persecution is sure to come, but eternal life will be the crown to all who leave everything to follow Christ!
Brothers and sisters, we all like the rich young man find our confidence in our self-righteousness and our hearts wander from loving God to the love of material things. May we turn away from temporal things to that which is eternal and imperishable.
We probably have felt the weight of ‘missing out’ in what appears to our human eyes as the real deal of life while we follow Christ. May we find hope and encouragement in the eternal glories promised by Christ!