Scripture: And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person 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 person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Matthew 19:23-30 ESV
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Observation: Recapping yesterday’s Daily Focus (click here to read), all three synoptic Gospels record the first segment of this story that, combined, tell us a young ruler (likely a Pharisee) approached and respectfully addressed Jesus to inquire about what “good deed” he must do to attain eternal life. Before Jesus answered the presenting question, he clarified that striving for good misses the mark. Jesus then answered to obey the commandments. The young man, seeking self-justification for his good works, followed with a second question: “Which ones?” Jesus then cited the six commandments regarding our relationship with humankind (reframing the prohibition of coveting our neighbor’s possessions with loving them as ourselves). The young man proudly responded that he kept all these commandments and asked what he still lacked. But Jesus, seeing through him, told the young man to give his wealth to the poor and follow him. Exposed, the young man walked away dejected.
In part two, today’s reading (its parallel found in Mark 10:23-31, click here to read, and in Luke 18:24-30, click here to read), Jesus turns to his disciples and cautions them that wealth is a stumbling block toward living the kingdom life. His disciples, having associated material prosperity as a sign of God’s favor on the righteous (as the religious leaders taught), express their dismay and ask, “Who then can be saved?” (v.25 above) Jesus, not backing off of his declaration, looks them in the eyes and says, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (v.26 above). And Peter, true to his bold but impetuous personality, points out to Jesus that they have left everything to follow him. Jesus graciously acknowledges their sacrifice and directs their thoughts to his consummation at the end of the age when he will return to judge the world. And those who have faithfully served him will receive a hundredfold reward that includes eternal life and honor (the last shall be first).
Of note, despite folklore, the metaphor of a camel going through the eye of a needle has no bases in what some have later written that Jesus referred to a gate in a wall in Jerusalem called the Eye of the Needle, where a camel could pass under its diminutive height with much difficulty by crawling on its knees.
Takeaway: While Jesus recently taught his disciples that they must have the faith of a child (trust and submission, click here to read) to enter the kingdom of heaven, here, he illustrates through his encounter with a rich young ruler that wealth spurs the opposite: self-sufficiency and autonomy. Still, based on Levitical law (click here to read Deuteronomy 28:1-14), God promises Israel that he will bless them for their obedience. But the blessings pertain to prospering according to their needs:
- Bear children.
- Put food on the table.
- Store reserves.
- Prosper in labor.
- Lend rather than borrow.
- Lead others.
While some of the above may seem to reach beyond our needs, obedience to God’s will limits each point. If he calls us to invest well or lead others, it comes with greater responsibility to grow his kingdom and glorify his name. Often, over time (like the frog in the kettle), we relax, enjoy the pleasures of a prosperous life, and succumb to selfish behavior that eventually will cause us to drift from God. But as Jesus assures his disciples, what is seemingly impossible is possible with God.
Indeed, as mentioned in my March 20, 2022, Daily Focus (click here to read), we have modern-day examples of men who thrived in their business ventures but stayed on course in seeking the Father’s will. Consider Truett Cathy (founder of Chick-fil-A) as one such example. Cathy lived within his means while investing in the well-being of his employees and the welfare of his community. Others like 19th-century philanthropist Paul LeTourneau (who tithed 90% of his net income to grow God’s kingdom) or 20th-century entrepreneur David Green (who donates half his pretax earnings from Hobby Lobby to evangelical missions) also provide us godly examples of appropriate gain and use of wealth.
So what’s our takeaway? Jesus talks about sacrifices, whether taking on those who oppose our Christian worldview and seek to ruin our livelihood or whether he calls us to leave behind our family or material possessions to follow him unincumbered by the ties that otherwise bind us. Either way, Jesus promises that whatever sacrifices we make, something much better awaits us in eternity: neverending joy in the presence and worship of our Creator and Savior among the company of saints who have gone before us. And we will long for nothing because we have it all!
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for the love and fellowship we enjoy in intimate communion with your Son, your Holy Spirit, and you. Still, we confess that we sometimes grasp or yearn for material wealth that we perceive will bring us lasting pleasure, only to distance ourselves from you. So would you please help us to keep an eternal perspective on our temporal earthbound journey and long for nothing beyond what awaits us in eternity? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling