How Hard It Will Be
Sunday, March 1, 2020
I have bad news for you. Jesus means what he says here. He makes no effort to make his statements specific to just this man or to make them into some kind of allegory. An upstanding, law-abiding man cannot inherit eternal life without selling everything he has and giving away the money. Jesus is very clear: “How hard it will be for those who have wealth 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.” Jesus will not soften the message, and neither will I. This should make us all uncomfortable.
In 2018, research found that the average United States resident thought that the global median individual income was about $20,000 a year, when actually, it’s $2,100 per year – one-tenth what they thought. Similarly, Americans typically place themselves in the top third of the world’s income distribution when actually, almost every American is in the top 10 percent of the world’s wealthiest. You might think that Jesus’ words aren’t about you, but I assure you, they absolutely are. You are wealthy. How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.
In this story, it absolutely doesn’t matter that this man is faithful, law-abiding, religious, devoted. He cannot follow Jesus until he leaves behind his wealth, his possessions, and all the prestige and power that come along with it. He asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, and when Jesus told him that he must release his inheritance to inherit the kingdom, the man chose his money over Jesus. How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. And that should make you profoundly uncomfortable.
This text is so uncomfortable that we try to find ways out of it. We might, for instance, take the historical route. When the book of Mark was written, the earliest Christians likely thought that Jesus was coming back not in generations or millennia, but within their lifetimes. Acts chapter 2 tells us that all Christians shared everything – all their money, all their possessions, so that anyone in need had enough. We can point to Jesus’ comments that those who leave everything for the sake of the good news will receive a hundredfold in this age – well, of course they would, because they all share from the common purse, and in so doing, receive a whole new family of faithful siblings in Christ. So really, we tell ourselves, this text is about Jesus’ immediate historical context, not us.
Or we try to take the vocational route. Sure, some of us might be called to lives of poverty and ascetism, but not everyone. Jesus knew that this man needed this devotional extreme, just as today there are monks and nuns and spiritual greats who deny all the abundance of the world for a simple, austere life of full devotion to Christ. We can’t all be expected to give away everything. God doesn’t want us destitute. So really, we tell ourselves, this text is just about some of us, not all of us.
Or we try to take the spiritual route. Jesus saw that this man could not fully devote his life to service of God while he stayed rich. His money was in the way. So we must ask ourselves: what gets in the way for us? What is it that keeps you from truly following Jesus and inheriting eternal life? Is it your use of your time or the people you hang out with or the work you do? You have to find that one thing and leave it behind so you can follow Jesus. So really, we tell ourselves, this text is more spiritual than literal.
Those things may all be true. Historical context does affect the way we read a text. The call to discipleship in one person’s life is going to look different from your life. We all do have different temptations and threats to our faith. Those things are all valid.
But what if Jesus means what he says? “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.” “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” That is really and truly explicit. Whatever else this text might mean, Jesus certainly means that money gets in the way of our devotion to God.
It is a scathing condemnation of this man and of us. It should make us uncomfortable. And so, I have to remember that Jesus looks at this faithful man and loves him. Jesus isn’t flipping tables or pointing fingers or hurling invectives. The one thing that keeps this man from being a disciple like all the others is wealth. Money and all its ensuing power and control keep him from following Jesus. And Jesus still loves him. How can we assume that it’s any different for us? We go to great lengths to justify our love of money, to the detriment of our faith in Jesus – but still, Jesus sees us and loves us
This is the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is not a suggestion or an idea. Lent is a season of intentional preparation. Lent gives us time and space to take a real, honest look at ourselves and truly understand that we don’t get it. We don’t fulfill God’s will for us. We hurt other people. And not that active hostility and condescension to others isn’t bad enough, but it gets worse – we also choose not to do the good we could do for others. It’s not like we’re doing something bad – but we’re choosing not to do good. And so often, those choices have everything to do with money. We want more, we want to protect what’s ours, we want to keep it from someone else. Our devotion to money keeps us from full devotion to God, and there is no better time than Lent to admit that and do something about it.
Our resistance to this message, our desire to shield ourselves from this bad news, just proves how in bondage to sin we truly are. If our salvation were dependent on us, it would be impossible. But here’s the thing: Lent leads us to Easter. In his suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus proves to us that God’s love for us is so great that not even sin and death can keep us from God. Jesus sees us and loves us. For God, all things are possible.
In these Lenten days, as you choose to use your money to God’s glory and for your neighbor’s good, don’t do it as if you can do it to inherit eternal life. Do it so that you can share God’s gift of life with a world that needs it. God is devoted to you so that you can be devoted to your neighbor. Let this Lent be the time you put your money where your faith is. Because Jesus is calling you to follow him, and that’s good news. Thanks be to God. Amen.
 “Most Americans vastly underestimate how rich they are compared with the rest of the world. Does it matter?” Gautam Nair. 23 August 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/08/23/most-americans-vastly-underestimate-how-rich-they-are-compared-with-the-rest-of-the-world-does-it-matter/. Accessed 26 Feb 2020.