One of my favorite stories was the last reading in R. C. and Anglican churches, from Mark 10: 17-27. . . . a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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 God.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
This story reveals three things.
- The demanding nature of the Kingdom. Jesus knew that the rich young man, who wanted to “go to heaven” (in today’s lingo) was righteous, keeping all the commandments “since I was a boy.” Yet this was not enough! Go and sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.
This is so demanding, in all honesty it almost seems ridiculous! Sell all you have, and give to the poor! Why on earth?? Because of treasures in heaven! (Matt. 6: 20)
- Our human condition. Jesus knew that the man’s great wealth was something he must have been attached to, and the Kingdom of Heaven is a zone of giving, not taking to the self. (Even Buddha taught that the cause of suffering was “tanha”, desire, attachment.) Elsewhere Jesus taught You cannot serve God and money. (See Matt. 6: 21. 24, versus all the prosperity preachers.) Even if you’re poor, you can be constantly thinking about money and stuff, rather than about how to fulfill the great demands of loving God and neighbor, “as yourself.” An example of sin, what we are all guilty of. “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also.” Ecclesiastes 5: 10 says, He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. A rich man is an empty has-been, diba?
Jesus warns, It is easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. How could this be true? Because the Kingdom is a zone of existence, a way of being in this world, a way of love which is the opposite of the continuous thought patterns required to become, and stay, rich.
(A young person looking for someone to love him or her, rather than learning to love others, is like the rich young man clinging to his wealth.)
So in telling the man to sell all he had and give to the poor, and “follow me” he was trying to do the man a favor. He would experience the great truth expressed in 2 Corinthians 8: 9: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. He would have been Christ’s disciple, and a happy man, like the wealthy doctor who gave up a thriving practice in order to serve the poor in Africa, and later reported he’d never been so happy in all his life! But this rich man went away sad, because he had great wealth.
- We see also the love and mercy of God. Because Jesus liked, nay “loved” the man, he knew what was best for him—not to be attached to money and stuff, but saved to live a life of giving, of love. He knew how impossible it was for a rich man to be “saved” (as the disciples said, “Who then can be saved?”) But then he added, “With God all things are possible.” Miracles still happen, for anyone who Seeks first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all will be given to him as well (Matt. 6: 33).
When Jesus went to the cross, he provided for this, taking upon himself the greed and sin of the rich young man, and all of us, and through his resurrection releasing for and in us a life of love instead. He now looks on us, as he did the rich man, and loves us, and wants to be in our lives through the Holy Spirit to save us from a self-centered life of taking and clinging, and empowering us also to Come, follow me.
Who then can be saved? All who will get down on their knees and surrender to the Crucified One, and then rise up to follow Him into a needy world, living Kingdom lives of loving, not taking, realizing God is not against you, but for you because He loves you, just as Christ loved the rich young man who walked away sorrowful, clinging to his wealth.