Jesus was once approached by a rich young man with this question: “What good thing can I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus listed the common commandments that all Jews knew. The young man replied, possibly with some smugness, “I have done all of this!” as if to show Jesus how good he was. Jesus then told him, “Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Then you will have great treasure in heaven. And come, follow Me.”
The young man went away sadly, because he owned a lot of property and he just could not make that sacrifice.
Then came Jesus’ interesting words: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
As a child, I always pictured this story through the lens of my mother’s sewing needle. “You mean a camel has to get through that? Impossible!” My childish mind was convinced that no rich person could ever get to heaven!
Jesus’ story needs context. The “eye of the needle” was the small gate in most walled cities that was left open for night travellers. It was not large enough for a camel to walk through. The camel had to be unsaddled and its load removed. Then the camel had to be coaxed to get on its knees and crawl through the tiny gate. This was a difficult challenge, but not impossible.
What Jesus really meant was this: rich people can get into the kingdom of heaven, but they will have to unburden themselves of their riches.
Who are the rich people Jesus was talking about? Those we call “filthy rich -“ Or could He also have been talking about the ordinary middle class?
By much of the world’s standards, I am a rich man. The fact that I own my own truck or car puts me in the upper class of the world. I would consider myself an ordinary person, financially speaking, but again, compared to much of the world’s people, I am rich.
I have a responsibility not to make my possessions my security. Jesus does not want me to depend on my own resources. He wants me to remember that He is the provider and that I have a responsibility to the poor and needy in our world. I must “unburden” myself of my riches by showing compassion to the needy and being generous. Otherwise, I could be labelled “filthy rich.”
I am not responsible to care for every need in the world. But I am responsible to care for those that come across my path or those the Lord lays upon my heart.
Can the rich enter heaven? Of course. There will be many. Can the middle class enter heaven? Of course. The real issue is not the amount of your wealth, but your commitment to lay down your riches and not try to hang on to them! You can’t get through the “small gate” loaded down with the burden of wealth – you can’t take it to heaven!
Are you willing to offload your riches with a generous heart? The rich young ruler missed the chance to follow Jesus because his wealth held him back. What are you going to do?