Friday, July 02, 2010


After the rich young ruler declines to sell all that he had and give it to the poor in order to follow Jesus, he turns and walks away. Jesus watches him go and remarks to his disciples,

"I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:23-24)

First, it's interesting to me that Jesus lets him go. He doesn't compromise and try to find a way to convince the man to return. He doesn't ammend his original call to sell everything in order to make it easier. Instead, he uses this as a teaching moment for those who have already made their decision to follow him.

Why does being rich make it difficult for us to enter the Kingdom of God? Is it because we tend to lean on our own resources instead of surrendering ourselves to God? Or maybe it's because we become enamored with what we have and find it difficult to let go of the things in this world in order to gain the eternal things of the Kingdom?

Perhaps this is also why James says,

"The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business." - (James 1:9-11)

It might also be why Jesus was sent to proclaim the Gospel to the poor (Luke 4:18), and why James says, "Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?" - (James 2:5)

Those who are poor already know that they have nothing, and that they must depend on the goodness of others to survive. Receiving God's favor and mercy is easier for someone who already knows they are weak. But those who perceive themselves to be healthy, or wealthy, do not require assistance.

"Jesus said to them, 'It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'" - (Mark 2:17)

As the rich young ruler walked away, still holding tightly to his wealth and unable to see the Kingdom of God, the disciples marveled at the words of Jesus concerning how difficult it can be for the rich to follow Him.

"When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, Who then can be saved?'" - (Matthew 19:25)

Jesus response is a famous one, he says, "'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'"

What is impossible with man? The power to let go of worldly wealth and to see the Kingdom of God.

What is possible with God? The ability to allow us to let go of our wealth and to humble ourselves and to enter the Kingdom.

This verse, which is all about having the ability to let go of worldly wealth, has sadly been twisted by many false teachers and applied to gaining even more wordly wealth.

The blessing we need from God is the ability to let go of our materialism, and our greed, and our dependence upon money. The miracle is to choose to trust God and not our own resource or ability.

Someone recently made a comment to me that God did not ever ask anyone - other than the rich young ruler - to sell everything and give it to the poor. However, look at Peter's response after the young man refuses Jesus' invitation and after Jesus proclaims that it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom.

"Peter answered him, 'We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?'" - (Matthew 19:27)

See that? All of the disciples responded to the call of Jesus by leaving everything to follow Him. They left nets full of fish dying on the beach to follow Him. They left money on the tax collecting table and walked away from their duties to follow Jesus. They gave up everything - gladly - to seek first the Kingdom of God.

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?'" - (Matthew 16:24-26)

If we make a decision to respond to the calling of Jesus and follow Him with our lives, we have to let go. We have to surrender our dreams, our plans, our hopes, our vision. We have to set our sights firmly on going where He sends us, and loving as He commanded us, and serving others as He has served us.

The promise for those who truly abandon everything for Jesus is this:

"....everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first." - (Matthew 19:28-30)

Do we really take Jesus at His word? Are we really ready to count the cost before we follow Him? (Luke 14:28-30)

Maybe this is what Paul means when he urges us to "work out (our) salvation with fear and trembling"? - (Philippians 2:12)



Marc said...

I think we should be very careful with this parable as it is often misappropriated. The man is seeking *eternal life* in all 3 parallels and, in all 3, Jesus says: obey the commandments. This the man has apparently fulfilled: he has life. We dare not read sarcasm or rhetoric into Jesus words to fit our Christian scheme.

Matthew's "if you want to be perfect" is basically the same as Luke and Mark's "one thing you lack" but designed to avoid misunderstanding: the thing the man lacks is not eternal life but the perfection which can be obtained in this life by dropping everything and following Jesus.

I think many will enter life, not just followers of Jesus (though they have a special calling and status) and I don't see the Bible contradicting this. Jesus does not condemn those who do not follow him/get baptised/become Christians but those who do not obey God and turn.

Keith Giles said...

Marc - I don't think this passage is a parable. It really happened.

I agree, the man was asking about "eternal life", but Jesus turns it around and says it is hard for a rich man to enter the "Kingdom of Heaven" (v.23), so I'm not reading into anything.

I'm curious about your response because you seem to suggest that it's possible to be either a disciple/follower or to be saved - as if these are 2 different options for us.

You say that the man has eternal life but - if he wants to attain "perfection" (?)- he can obey Jesus and follow Him.

Are there 2 different options here? Isn't following Jesus and being saved/redeemed actually one thing? According to Scripture I think the two are really one and the same.