16 A man approached him and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?”
17 Jesus said, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There’s only one who is good. If you want to enter eternal life, keep the commandments.”
18 The man said, “Which ones?”
Then Jesus said, “Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. 19 Honor your father and mother [Exodus 20:12-16; Deuteronomy 5:16-20] and love your neighbor as you love yourself” [Leviticus 19:18].
20 The young man replied, “I’ve kept all these. What am I still missing?” 21 Jesus said, “If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come follow me.”
22 But when the young man heard this, he went away saddened, because he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I assure you that it will be very hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 In fact, it’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”
25 When his disciples heard this, they were stunned. “Then who can be saved?” they asked.
26 Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible for human beings. But all things are possible for God.”
Jesus called a rich young man to reset his priorities. He couldn’t do it. He went away sad. He seemed to want to follow Jesus, but he didn’t do it because he wanted all his earthly possessions even more. Like many people then (and now), Jesus' disciples thought earthly riches always meant God had blessed the owner. Jesus shocked them when he said, “It will be very hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Very hard, but not impossible: “All things are possible for God” (verse 26).
Lord Jesus, you offer me heaven’s riches. Give me a heart that can accurately assess the treasure of your kingdom, and value it properly against all other claims. Amen.
“It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom.”
I remember somewhere in my teens reading this passage and thinking to myself, "Well it’s a good thing I’m poor and a woman, ha!" In all honesty, for a long time, I regarded this verse as needed more for those who had a lot of wealth. I’d read it through and judgmentally think, "Well this doesn’t apply to me, but I’ll be sure to pass it along." Boy did I have it wrong!
The more I discovered the meaning of Jesus’s words in Matthew 19 the more I saw myself as the well-meaning man with high moral character and perhaps a willingness to learn, but lacking the willingness to give all to God if asked. What I find interesting is that the disciples didn’t respond the way I originally did. They didn’t say, "It’s a good thing we’re a bunch of fishermen and vagabonds." They were “stunned” by Jesus’s response and asked, “Then who can be saved”? They saw all that this man did to obey the commandments, his moral character, and asked, "If not him, then who?" The question points again to the matter of our hearts, not the matter of what we can do or achieve. Where/what is your treasure? Or perhaps a better question is, what is at the center of your universe?
In verse 22 when the young man heard Jesus tell him to sell all his belongings and follow Jesus, he went away “saddened,” because he had many possessions. What’s interesting is the same Greek word used for “saddened” or “grieved” is used to describe Jesus’s grief in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was grieving because he knew what needed to come and ultimately what he would need to sacrifice. Here the rich man is grieving in the same tone because of what he’s not willing to sacrifice.
What’s at the center of our universe? What is it that we orbit around? Is it our status, security of wealth, possession, etc? Because if so, it doesn’t matter how “rich” or “poor” we think we are, what we are centered around is what leads us to or away from truly living a life in Jesus Christ. Life to the fullest.
As much as I didn’t think that verse was meant for me, I still remember receiving my first paycheck from my first job in high school and feeling a stubbornness rise within me when my father suggested I tithe to the church from what I just earned. It doesn’t matter the amount of money we have or the belongings beside us, what God is asking for is the willingness of our hearts.
Jesus is clear that God is not to be found in the fist, no matter how tightly clenched. God is not folded in your wallet, locked behind your safety deposit box, or written in the lines of your insurance policy. This is not to say that God cannot or will not work through those things, but it is to say that God is not bound by them. God is not in the business of reinforcing our illusion of security. Jesus' offer here is rather radical. "If you want to give it all you've got," he says, "divest yourself of your power, embrace vulnerability, and experience true power in following me, in answering my call." Considering this passage, I think the first step in answering the question of "what must I do for eternal life" may just be answering another question: What are you holding on to?
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