Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at his words.
So Jesus again said to them in reply, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.
All things are possible for God." Peter began to say to him, "We have given up everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come."
Last week, if the entire Gospel was read instead of the shortened version, you might remember that there seemed to be a story tacked on to the end of Jesus’ teaching on divorce. It was the story of the Apostles who rebuked the parents who brought children to Jesus to be touched. Jesus got very upset with the disciples and told them that “whoever does not accept the kingdom of heaven like a child will not enter into it.” What Jesus meant by that directly relates to the Gospel we hear today. What qualities was Jesus talking about that make us ‘accept the kingdom like a child’? The answer is that children are so young that they have done nothing to merit the kingdom. They haven’t tried to earn God’s favor, and, especially in Jesus’ time, they had no status at all. What Jesus is indicating is that we cannot really do anything to merit or be worthy of the kingdom. He is saying that the kingdom is God’s gift to us – our riches, our status, our power – mean nothing to God.
This directly relates to today’s reading. The young man we hear about today is shown to be really quite the opposite of what Jesus had been saying about children because this young man was trying to use his own efforts to pursue the kingdom of God. He couldn’t understand that it was nothing he could do to merit that kingdom, but that it was God’s gift to those who understand their own neediness. He lacked the “Wisdom” that we hear about in the first reading.
The young man was a good person. He showed respect to Jesus, kneeling when addressing him, and asked a question which showed that he wanted to do things that would lead to life after death. He was already doing the things that he was supposed to. He was observing the Jewish laws. To ask Jesus this question, though, he must have felt that there was something more. He wasn’t satisfied with what he was already doing.
He calls Jesus ‘good’, and Jesus’ reply is an odd one. There has been a lot of speculation on Jesus’ reply that ‘no-one is good but God alone’. Perhaps the young man is basing Jesus’ ‘goodness’ on the things Jesus has done – the healings, for example – and not on the goodness in him which is a reflection of God’s goodness. The young man is again associating goodness with following the law, or doing good things rather than God’s innate goodness.
Jesus tells the young man what the Mosaic law asks him to do – follow the commandments. We should note, however, that Jesus doesn’t list all the ten commandments but only those that relate to human social interactions. So, did Jesus just forget about the first commandments that refer to a person’s relationship with God? Of course not, and we shall see that relationship in what follows.
What happens next is very important to the understanding of the story. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Nowhere else in the Gospels does this happen – that Jesus looks on someone with love. The word used is agapao which is the same word that is used in the early church for the type of love that God and Jesus had for us – a love that is divine. But the young man does not seem to notice the look of love – the look which may have been his answer, the look which would have freed him from his earthly social commandments and bring him to love of God. Unfortunately, he is too preoccupied with his own needs to notice.
Jesus immediately sees the problem – the young man is too attached to his possessions. posessions which in his mind gave him his independence – the very thing that Jesus had just told the Apostles was what children had, that we needed to get. Feelings of independence negate the childlike dependency that Christ says we need to have to enter the kingdom. What the young man has to do then is get rid of all those things that make him feel independent and become dependent on Jesus and God. Jesus says: Sell all your things and give them to the poor and then follow me. This summarizes the first three commandments which is our relationship with God. Only, Jesus here replaces God – since he is God.
Unfortunately the young man is unable to lose his independence. It is the first time we see someone not accepting the call of Jesus. And he is such a good man! And Jesus really loved him! What this means for us is that we need detachment from our material goods. This is especially hard, I think, in our American society in which our own worth seems based on material things. It is not that we can’t have material things – Peter seems to have kept his fishing boat, for example, but that we cannot be attached to things. Material things and money cannot rule our lives. We cannot be dependent on them. We must develop our dependence on God.
This dependence is so hard. The Apostles knew it was so hard! They were ‘amazed’ at Christ’s words. Jesus himself admits that it is hard. But harder still is it, Jesus says, for someone who is wealthy and dependent on material things to get into heaven. Wealth stops a person from having what he or she needs to get there. This is a radical statement, by the way, for Jews felt that wealth was a gift from God and meant that God favored one.
Jesus then uses a metaphor to describe how hard it would be for a dependent wealthy person to attain heaven. “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.” This is a strange metaphor, but one theologian explained that the eye of the needle was the term used for the small passageways or holes in the wall that lead into the temple. A camel would be too big to fit through this passageway. The Apostles wonder then who can be saved? Who can ever enter eternal life if it is that hard to do?
Jesus answer is the most wonderful answer he could give to us: “All things are possible with God.” God presents us with eternal life, with our salvation as a free gift. He sent his only Son to give that gift to all of us – all of us, whether we merit it or not – it is a gift. That does not mean that we can stop doing things, that we can acquire riches, do anything we want and still attain heaven. We still have to accept that gift – and that means becoming like a little child – dependent on God.
The young man today was a good man. Jesus loved him. But he could not do it. Can we? Can we spend a little more time each week on our relationship with God? Can we try to put more faith and trust in God, leaving ourselves more in his hands? Can we find a little more time to pray each week, to do things which allow us to see God in others more?
St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)