Mark 10:23–31 NRSV
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them 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.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
We left off in Mark with the man of great wealth coming before Jesus with his query about inheriting eternal life. Bottom line: Jesus was willing to let the wealthy man go away sad.
With these few sentences Jesus crushes the conventional wisdom of the day. In those days (as in our own), people tended to equate wealth as a sign of God’s favor and as the fruit of a righteous life. The corollary also rang true: poverty was a sign of the absence of God’s favor and the bitter fruit of sin.
We need to remember at this point how Jesus had systematically taken on this value system. He went to the poor and the lepers and the sick and unleashed extravagant blessing on them. In today’s text, he takes the system on from the angle of the rich. This comment about the impossibility of rich people entering the kingdom of God would have been nothing less than stupefying to those gathered. Jaws would have hit the floor everywhere. Jesus said the exact opposite of all they had been taught.
The Twelve looked at one another with sheer incredulity.
They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”
Wealth was not the sign of blessing, rather it was the source of burden. This was truly an aha moment.
The kingdom of God cannot be understood as an extension of the kingdom of the world with a little Jesus overlay. The kingdom of God cannot be understood as a projection of even the best and most fair minded merit system we can imagine. Bottom line: No one has any claim on the kingdom of God. In fact, it’s impossible for anyone to enter the kingdom of God on their own terms.
Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
The kingdom of God belongs exclusively to those who will unconditionally and absolutely belong to the God of the kingdom. In the end, this is not about divesting oneself of wealth, but entrusting oneself to God. Wealth, like nothing else, can get in the way of this, which is precisely why our wealth must be entrusted to God—whatever that means and whatever it takes.
Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”
At first glance it feels like Peter was contending for some kind of claim here; something akin to “you owe us.” In response, Jesus doesn’t so much rebuke as he reassures. All the possibilities of God reside with those who place all of their possibilities in his hands. On second thought, I think Peter was saying just that—we have trusted you with everything, Jesus.
Jesus reassures them by saying in effect, “And everything I have, little flock, I am giving to you.”
This is extravagant exchange. The celebrated missionary turned martyr Jim Elliot said it best when he said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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