As I studied this story in Scripture here in the Gospel of Matthew 19:16-26 as well as the Gospels of Mark 10:17-27 and Luke 18:18-27, I realized that there was a meaning that I had never seen. I realized that this Scripture is often taken out of context and that also, because it was taken out of context, I always thought that it was ignored. I had always believed, because that was what was taught me in church, that the story of the rich young ruler meant that it was impossible to achieve eternal life if a person were rich. I always wondered why we did not give all our possessions away as Christians and live communally. Actually, this is a story of God’s grace and sovereignty.
I DO believe that it is difficult for people to trust in God rather than the themselves and that money can lead to evil things….it’s addicting too many. In this story, we assume to crux of the message is about money. Actually the crux of the message is that it is impossible for US to achieve eternal life, however, it IS possible for us to achieve eternal life through the grace of God. I believe that had Jesus been asked the same question by someone else, He would have answered it differently in that He would know what keeps any of us from trusting and depending on God and would have pointed that out. Whatever in our lives makes us feel powerful in a way that we believe WE have formed our destiny, not God graced us with this thing…….that would be what Jesus pointed out. Let’s look at these Scriptures in context:
Matthew 19:16-30 (TNIV)
16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” 17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” 20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” 26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With human beings this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Jesus is speaking here in response to a rich young man that he has just met. The young man asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus tells him to follow God’s commandments. The young man tells Jesus that he has done that since he was a child and asked, “What do I still lack?” Jesus tells him, and look closely here, that to be PERFECT, he must sell all his possessions, give to the poor and that the hen will then have treasure in heaven. Then Jesus invites him to follow Him.
I would point out that this Scripture does not say that that it is “impossible” for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, but only that it can be hard. I have often wondered about this. I continue to see a reoccurring underlying theme to Jesus message……trust, faith and dependence on God rather than one’s self. This fly’s in the face of what many people believe or what seems natural in life. This is a truth of understanding that transcends what we believe to be reality. We are told by the world that we should “be all WE can be”, we must “look out for NUMBER ONE”, it’s the “ME generation…..MYspace…….” everything is wrapped up around us. I have seen in my life that it is when I place my trust in God, in Jesus, when I look to Him for all things, when I humble myself to understand that “it is not about Me”, but that it is about my relationships with Him and others…..that I find fulfillment, peace and joy.
Why is it hard for the rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven/kingdom of God? Because so very often the materially rich have learned to depend on themselves. When they feel empty….they turn to material things to dull the pain. Because all of their most basic needs are met…..they become the most “self” reliant. Often one can have everything materially, but lack what that young rich man that Jesus was talking to lacks……dependence on God. Again, it was when I depended on myself rather than God’s wisdom that my life spiraled out of control. Many followers of Christ will tell you that they have observed and experienced the same thing.
“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.” First, let us clear up one myth……the “eye of the needle gate” in Jerusalem. Many commentators have suggested that Jesus was talking about a gate or called the “the Eye of a Needle” in Jerusalem, or that the “Eye of a needle” refers to a small door within a large door that would cause a camel to kneel to be able to even enter. I have been able to find no archeological basis for this assumption. It simply is not true. Jesus was clearly speaking of the largest animal known in Palestine and the smallest of holes….the eye of a needle.
The disciples were greatly astounded perhaps because in Ancient Palestine, the Jews looked upon wealth as a blessing from God (sound familiar…I must admit that in my own life, I often feel the same way), a reward for doing the right thing. Does this mean that Jesus is saying that the only way that we can enter the kingdom of heaven is to give all our possessions away? The key to this Scripture is found in verse 26: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” No, what I believe Jesus is saying is that there is NOTHING WE CAN DO ourselves to achieve eternal life, only God can do this. This message is intermingled with the truth that it is better to rid ourselves of things or attitudes that draw us away from God. The young man did not love God with his whole heart as he had presumed. In reality, his many possessions were his god, his idol.
Today’s CLUE: Jesus tells us that it is hard for us to enter the kingdom of heaven when we trust other things in our life and not God. We must put our faith in Jesus, and not ourselves. In the end, it is God who graces us with eternal life , not US who achieves it.
What do you think?
Schmrfett commented: I agree with you’ve said here. I remember long ago discussing this with a man at my church and I told him that I thought that in most cases, Jesus never actually asks you to give up everything but expects you to be willing to. It’s less of a phyiscal act of sacrifice, and more of a spiritual and emotional act of submission. There are, however, times when it is of utmost importance to relinquish things, money, or whatever it is holding you back from a dynamic relationship with Christ.
Ultimately, though what I think it all boils down to is submission and a proper view of God & ourself. In lowliness & humility, we must realize that there is nothing worth depending on if it is Christ Himself.
mrguesswho commented: Context, what was the author trying to say. Often we come to wrong conclusions because we mediate on a verse or a chapter. But the authors of the books and letters of the bible were not the ones that numbered chapters and verses. They never intended for you not read the entire book. Other than Proverbs, the bible was never intended to be read as a series of one sentence guides to wisdom.
You have done a good job of putting the story back into full contest. Thank you
evowookie commented: Thank you for debunking that gate myth…it really really grates me. Not as much as every pastor that has to tell that “starfish” story.
Responding to the meat. I believe that God calls us to be responsible. I see many times where we depend on our wealth to save us, that money becomes our masters, and that we obsess over making more and more of it. In the end, what is money? Power. power to purchase, to indulge, to squander. The more you have, the harder it is to remain balanced.
Remember, Job was blessed with wealth, but he was a righteous man.