Blessings to you on this Maundy Thursday – if you are on the island, please join us this evening for a beautiful service of the Last Supper.
Luke 18:18 – 25
18 A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 19Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 20You know the commandments: “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.” ’ 21He replied, ‘I have kept all these since my youth.’ 22When 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.’ 23But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. 24Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25Indeed, 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.’
Jesus has said the exalted will be humbled and the humble exalted – Luke has illustrated that idea with the little children; now he takes it from the other direction, the view of one who was exalted in his community.
A rich young ruler comes to Jesus, asking, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” There are several problems with his question – but Jesus addresses the first problem. He has addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher”. Is this an attempt at flattery? Why does Jesus reject the title, saying only God is good? Is he pointing to his own divinity, as he is on the road to Jerusalem and the crucifixion? Or is he simply challenging the questioner? The second problem is the question itself – “What must I do to inherit?” An inheritance is something that comes to one through the actions of someone else – a parent or grandparent usually. One does not “do” or earn an inheritance. In this case, the inheritance the young man seeks comes to us through the actions of Jesus, on the cross.
And then Jesus says, in accord with what the young man believes, “You know the commandments”. And he replies that he has kept these from his youth. But has he? Does he love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength? Does he love his neighbor as himself? Jesus tells him to go and sell what he has and give to the poor, and then come follow him. In other words, put your money where your mouth is. Show that you love God more than you love your wealth. Show that you trust God completely, with all that you have and all that you are.
But the rich man goes away sad, because he is not willing to trust God – he thought his riches showed God’s blessing on his life; he thought he deserved to be wealthy. But Jesus says it is hard for the rich to get into heaven, as hard as for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Don’t go looking for explanations to make a camel getting through a needle’s eye easier, like it really meaning a gate! Jesus deliberately uses hyperbole – his example is meant to be impossible. But then he tells the disciples that nothing is impossible with God. Only through God’s grace can we be saved – we cannot purchase eternal life with our worldly wealth, nor does the possession of wealth indicate that we are blessed by God in some special way. Our riches are not something we “deserve” but something given us to be used in blessing others.