[Jesus said,] “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:24)
Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man is a troublesome passage for those of us who live in the west for, in comparison to the rest of the world, we are rich. And Jesus is telling us that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for us to enter the kingdom of heaven. When the disciples respond by asking, “‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” (Matthew 19:25b-26). We tend to try to figure out who is rich and who is not because we think that Jesus has given us a loophole into heaven… if we are not rich. But then we overlook the fact that Jesus slams that loophole shut when he tells us that it is impossible for anyone to be saved with human effort.
Back in ancient times, there was no middle class like we have today. There was a very small minority who were rich and a large majority who were poor. The rich often got that way at the expense of the poor. The focus of the rich was on maintaining and adding to their wealth, so much so that they could not imagine life without their wealth. We see this in the rich young man’s decision to not give his wealth away and follow Jesus.
The poor, on the other hand, were unencumbered by wealth and possessions because they had none. They knew that they were in a desperate situation and they had no reserve of food on hand. So they were much more open to trusting in a Saviour who promised to rescue them and to praying to God for daily bread. The rich thought that they already had a saviour (their wealth) and daily bread.
With our smartphones, RRSPs and refrigerators, we tend to function more like the rich people of the past than the poor. We live in a very affluent part of the world where there is huge resistance to the Gospel of Jesus because we have so much. Being saved is impossible with us.
But with Jesus, the impossible becomes possible. In the parallel passage in Mark 10, we discover how Jesus felt about the rich young man: “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” (Mark 10:21a) Jesus loves us rich, lost people. And because he loves us, the God-human Jesus offered up one perfect human life of infinite worth as the ultimate sacrifice to pay for all sin. The eye of that needle has now become as large as Jesus. And us broken, desperate camels can always enter the kingdom of heaven through him.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, please free me from the grip that wealth and possessions has on my heart. Help me to see how desperately I need you. Help me to rest in your love. Amen.