Luke 18: 18 – 30 The rich and the kingdom of God

Luke 18: 18 – 30 The rich and the kingdom of God

A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good teacher, 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 commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother.” ‘

‘All these I have kept since I was a boy,’ he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, 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.’

Those who heard this asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’

Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.’

Peter said to him, ‘We have left all we had to follow you!’

‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’

*       *       *

I’m going to start with the last two verses, because I think they shed light on the teaching of this whole section. What do they mean?

‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’

We know from history and church tradition that the disciples weren’t rewarded with material things. Not only that, most of them were martyred.

Before following Jesus, Peter had a business as a fisherman, he had a home, and he had a wife. What does it mean when Jesus says he will receive many times as much in this age? What did Peter receive?

He travelled, to escape persecution and to spread the good news, so he could be said to have had many homes.  He had a leading role in the early church, which must have been both demanding and satisfying. It would have meant that he would have had to care for many people outside his immediate family, so he could be said to have had many times the number of people who were his church family.

Importantly, he would have known the love of God for all these people. Indeed, he would have been a channel for it. I think this is why Jesus implies that Peter’s role, though it was difficult, is a reward for relinquishing his earthly ambitions and comforts. As we let go of selfish desires, and allow God to open our hearts to those around us, we experience spiritual growth. We feel a deep sense of the presence of Jesus and of being accepted. The more we grow spiritually, the more authentically we become the person we were created to be.

The delight of eternal life will be to become fully whole and authentic and experience the joy of God’s loving acceptance.

Back to the start of the passage.

The ruler approaches Jesus with humility. “Good teacher,” he says, and then asks “what must I do to inherit eternal life.” He must have seen some quality in Jesus that made him long to emulate him.

Jesus points him to the commandments. The ruler says ‘All these I have kept since I was a boy.’ He doesn’t say this in a boastful way. He is aware of a lack in his spiritual life, and he’s hoping that Jesus can tell him how to fill it.

Jesus has compassion for him. He tells him how to heal the spiritual void he is feeling. ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.

It is good to give to the poor. I don’t suppose the ruler had a problem with that. What, then, is the sticking point?

I suggest it is the word “everything”. Sell everything you have and give to the poor.

Jesus recognised how hard this was for the ruler, and it prompted him to say, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, 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 possession of riches is bad for our spiritual life for at least three reasons.

Firstly, although in theory wealth could exist without exploitation, in practice this is not the case. One person’s wealth is always other people’s poverty.

Secondly, riches build barriers between people. It is hard to maintain fellow feeling if you have an empty belly and they have a full one; or, indeed, if you have a full belly, and they have an empty one.

Thirdly, riches insulate you to a certain extent from the dangers and discomforts of the world. It’s a fact that on average the rich live longer than the poor. There is a dreadful temptation to trust in our riches and not in Jesus for security.

So where do I stand?

I own my home. I have a pension from my employment. I wouldn’t think of myself as wealthy, but compared with most of the world’s citizens I am. I’m certainly subject to the temptation to rely on material things rather than Jesus. I am undoubtedly going to find it hard to enter the kingdom of God.

How glad I am for the words, “Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.’ “

I think that at the least I should do my best to avoid exploitation; do my best to break down barriers between me and other people; and trust as deeply as I can in Jesus. It’s not much; for the rest I can only put my trust in God, for ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.’

Prayer

Heavenly Father

Thank you for the teaching you have given me about wealth. Please help me to rely more and more on you, and less and less on my possessions.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

Published by pennygadd51

I write. I've written many pieces of flash fiction, dozens of short stories and two novels, with a third in progress.

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