People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’
A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother.”’ He replied, ‘I have kept all these since my youth.’ When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth 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 it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ He replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.’
Then Peter said, ‘Look, we have left our homes and followed you.’ And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’ (NRSV).
Entering the kingdom seems to be quite a challenge according to Jesus. Here we have two exemplary kingdom of God categories: children and those who leave everything. It must look like good news to some…and bad – or at least sobering – news to others.
And Jesus is not kidding. When Jesus heard the orders given by his disciples he corrects them in front of those being sent away. He will bless them.
The disciples have underestimated Jesus on this one. They have not done this in secret. They are assuming that what they are doing is expected. Surely they rightly form a protective barrier from lesser work?
But Jesus does not see it this way and makes it abundantly clear. Blessing the children is kingdom work of the highest order: ‘…to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.’ And these children are not only welcome. They are exemplary.
And right then there appears a ruler. He is obviously rich and powerful. There is no hindrance to his assuming an audience with Jesus – either on the disciple’s part or on his. Even 2,000 years ago money could get you places!
Our ruler sees ‘good’ in Jesus and has come to pose a question: ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He openly affirms that he has followed the law to the letter ‘since my youth’. What more could be required?
Much, it would seem. Sell your wealth; give to the poor; follow me. It is a setting free; a permission to start again; an invitation to learn from the master.
But this offer leaves our ruler ‘sad’. He is being asked to give his ‘treasure’.
Although it seems that the disciples overhear, Jesus’ next words cannot be truly understood unless we take seriously their personal and private nature. This ruler faces a decision that challenges him to the core. Probably no one except him can understand.
Well, except Jesus. His words brim with understanding, challenge, and hope. Looking into those shocked eyes, Jesus articulates the tug-of-war that must be raging inside: ‘‘How hard it is for those who have wealth 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 listeners respond in shock: ‘Then who can be saved?’ It indicates their deeply held belief that the rich were better off – even in the eyes of God. Surely their abundant life reflected abundant blessing. In light of this radical teaching the listeners are wondering if anyone can be saved. If not the rich, then what hope have the poor?
But Jesus has not suggested salvation is achieved alone. Perhaps such self-sacrifice seems impossible for people captivated by the pursuit of wealth.
But the impossible is possible with God.
And, as Peter knows, Jesus has already inspired such dedicated followers. He cites the disciple’s leaving of homes to follow after the one they have come to call ‘Messiah’.
But Jesus knows Peter’s insight is incomplete. They have left much more than bricks and tiles. He adds, unbidden, their wives, brothers, parents, and children.
Perhaps the disciples left riches they didn’t realise Jesus knew they possessed.
I can’t help wondering – and hoping – that the sad, rich ruler stayed to listen to the rest of this interaction. I want the words: ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God’ to become his mantra.
And I want him to see anew the miracles that surround him. God has inspired these unlikely men to leave their own ‘treasures’.
And in doing so they have discovered precisely what this ruler seeks. They have found ‘eternal life’.