The Rich and the Kingdom of God
As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’” He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to (the) poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. 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.
Jesus is on his way again - on his way to Jerusalem, where death and resurrection await him - that is, towards the final destination. There is a man walking towards Jesus, obviously a rich man. He runs towards Jesus and falls on his knees. That was an expression of high recognition in the Jewish world at that time. He says, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” That you call him “Good teacher” and even ask him “What must I do to get eternal life?” shows that Jesus, in his opinion, must know the will of God, otherwise he would not ask him this question. He seemed deeply convinced that Jesus knows the will of God. That is what his question expresses. What does he mean by this? The Greek word means “to receive eternal life,” a receiving that is certain. So, this rich young man wants to do something that will certainly guarantee him heaven. That is questionable! He, a man who can only do temporal things, wants to do something in order to get the undeserving, the eternal, as if he could pay for it.
Jesus replied: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (cf. verse 18)
Jesus points away from himself - towards the Father. Only God is good. He points completely away from himself, completely towards the Father. With his answer, Jesus wants to express that the questioner must only keep the commandments of God if he wants to attain the kingdom of God. And Jesus continues: “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honour your father and your mother.” With this you point to the will of the Father. These are the commandments of the second tablet. As you know, Moses brought two tablets of stone from Sinai. On the first tablet were the first three commandments, which are about God: you shall have no other gods besides me, you shall hallow the name of God, and you shall hallow the day of God. On the second tablet of Moses were the rest of the commandments. So, Jesus quotes this second tablet, because he had already summarised the first tablet with the words: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
This rich young man replies: “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” (cf. verse 20)
In Greek, “from youth” literally means since the age of discernment. He had therefore observed all these commandments from then on, since he was responsible for his actions. Therefore, according to the Jewish view, he may be considered a righteous man. He had kept the law. He probably expected Jesus to confirm this to him.
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to (the) poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’” (cf. verse 21)
Although this man was considered righteous because he had kept all the commandments since the age of reason, Jesus said to him, “nevertheless you have a lack. You are lacking in one thing.” Jesus looked into the depths of his heart and included him in his love because this man sincerely meant it. Therefore, he had compassion on him and out of this compassion he drew his attention to a lack that hindered him, that he had not yet recognised: “take out of your heart the pride that makes you say, ‘I do all this!’” This pride - all this I do - as if we could do anything without grace, without God! Many think similarly, “I’ll do it. I want to earn heaven. What else do I have to do to have heaven for sure?” Jesus points out this pride to him. For him, according to the common Jewish view, his external possessions are an expression of spiritual possessions. Wealth was considered a sign that God had blessed someone, that they were recognised by God. Jesus wants to make it clear to him: “This earthly possession is no guarantee that you are approved by God.” The young man is leaning entirely on his possessions. He gives him the assurance to say, “I have many possessions, so God has blessed me. Therefore, I have a right to heaven.” But I can only have heaven given to me. No human being can earn it, because it is about something infinite, eternal. We, as temporal beings, cannot earn anything eternal. We can only have it given to us. So, this young man relies on his works. This is a point that concerns each one of us. We must ask ourselves, “On what do I lean before God?” How many times do we say in an emergency situation, “Dear God, I have prayed so much, I have done good, I have lived decently, and now you allow this to come upon me, you are afflicting me with this illness, or the accident in the family, or this mishap, or this failure, etc?” Have you done that before? So, I’ve relied on my praying: I pray, so God must bless me, he must give me earthly well-being, earthly happiness, earthly success. I rely on my doing. But this doing - my praying, my effort to keep the commandments, i.e., to live daily in the will of God - is not selfless. It is not an expression of my love, but I do it like the rich young man and then ask, “What do I get for it?” I want a reward. That is my security. My security is not God himself. My security is not the love of God, his mercy, but my own doing, my work. That is also our problem, our lack. That’s why many believing, pious people start to spin when something in life doesn’t go according to their will, doesn’t go according to their idea. Then I have to ask myself, “Why is God taking something away from me?” And often that was something I learned on because that meant security for me. My security was not God. My security was not faith, was not trust in the guidance of God, who also leads me through the darkness, even through failure once. My support was not the love of God and the mercy of God. That is a very, very important realization. That is why we should do everything we do out of love and not as a performance by which I want to force God to do something for me. Jesus points this out to him out of love for him.
“At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” (cf. verse 22)
Sadly, he went away. He did not understand what Jesus was telling him. He had many possessions and for him they were signs that God had blessed him. He could not change his mind. But Jesus calls us to rethink, to repent - again and again. So, we too often cannot rethink, cannot turn back from our performance thinking before God, from our achievement-based holiness. When Jesus exposes his earning mentality, the whole entanglement of his life comes to light. This rich young man lacks trust in God. He has relied on his works, on his faithful keeping of the commandments and on his wealth, but not on God. He does not expect everything exclusively from God.
“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.’” (cf. verse 23-25)
Jesus looked around at his disciples and said: “How hard it is for people who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were frightened, for they too thought that the rich man was the one blessed by God, the righteous man who had a right to heaven. They were terrified: if those who are blessed with riches do not enter, how can those who have little to nothing enter? The 2000 years of Church history confirm Jesus’ statement. The person who is rich is always in danger of leaning on wealth. But there is not only earthly wealth, there is also mental wealth, for example our appearance, our title, our profession, our conceit of being something great. I can also lean on that - on my knowledge and ability. It does me good when everyone is amazed at what I know. When everyone asks me. You know that! That is a mental wealth. There is also a spiritual wealth, as the young man: I pray and keep the commandments just so I can go to heaven, but not out of love for God. I lean on my actions. But this relying on such riches - material, mental, spiritual - does not lead to the goal. It shows that I do not expect everything from God, not from his love, but from my works. This does not mean that I should do nothing, but that I should do everything even more, if it is possible, but out of love for God and people. That is the difference. That's where a change of thinking is needed again. Because we think like the world, like this rich young man.
“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.’” (cf. verse 27)
It is impossible for us humans to earn heaven, to go to heaven through our human works. We can only do temporal works. What I do is limited, but heaven is something unlimited, infinite, eternal - the gift of love. Therefore, what I do should also be my gift of love for God and for people. From this knowledge that it is impossible for human beings to earn heaven, we should take the heading of the Sermon on the Mount seriously: poverty. Poverty means everything I do, I do not want to be rewarded by God - everything I do, in prayer, in charity, in my profession, in my work. I try to fulfill the will of God out of pure love, but I myself remain completely poor. I don’t want anything in return. I don’t do it because I want something. That is poverty. I want to be completely poor before God, completely needy, completely dependent on his love and mercy. I want to expect everything from him in poverty. That is what is meant and that is what makes you free. You know, if you are constantly accumulating wealth - some people think they have to pay for heaven with a lot of earnings - then you are always afraid that you could still sin in the end. And then all the merits go to waste. But if I have given everything to God, if I have done everything out of love for Him, nothing can go wrong. And if I completely rely on the fact that I receive everything from him, that is the greatest freedom and security. It frees us from the pressure of having to perform. That is the wonderful thing about this Gospel.
“Peter began to say to him, ‘We have given up everything and followed you.’” (cf. verse 28)
Now Peter also adds up: "We have left everything and followed you" - so we have become quite poor. How does it look for us now? We can't pay for anything. We cannot earn heaven. We have nothing! Peter is now speaking for the others, that is, for the apostles, and he said again, “Look, Lord! Think about it! We have left everything. We have followed you.” And Jesus answers, “Amen, I say to you,” that is, it is dead certain. It is a question of the very certain arrival of what he is now proclaiming, namely:
“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...” (cf. verse 29-30a)
Jesus is first concerned with the certain arrival of this proclaimed reward. The right motivation, he says, is necessary. First - it must be “ for my sake.” This is also a question for you and for me: Do I do everything for Jesus? This means: Radical renunciation of all previous ties and exclusively following Jesus Christ. I do not bind myself to all kinds of things and all kinds of people, but only to Jesus Christ. That is total surrender. The second important motivation Jesus mentions is: “for the sake of the gospel.” Jesus also asks us: “Why have you left everything? Think for a moment: Why? What are your intentions? Did you leave something in order to gain something in particular, that is, in the sense of achievement? Or did you leave it simply for the sake of Jesus and for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of Jesus' message?” We too must ask ourselves, “Am I doing everything - praying, working, suffering, etc. - for the sake of Jesus Christ, for love of Him, for the sake of the message of Jesus, so that all may be saved? Is that my motivation?” That is what the Gospel calls us to do, that is what Jesus calls us to do.
“... houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.” (cf. verse 30b)
Listen carefully! Whoever lives, prays, works, suffers for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, for the sake of the message - will receive everything a hundred times over because we give ourselves completely to Him for the sake of Christ give up all other conditions. This does not mean that I no longer look after my relatives or my parents. That is not what is meant, but: I do not bind myself. They are not my security, but my only security is Jesus Christ. So, the disciple receives back a hundredfold all that he has left – house, brother, sister, mother, children, or lands - all that they have left in this world. But surely you have noticed: one thing is missing. He gets everything back - except his father. He doesn't get him back. In his radical existence, this disciple has submitted himself to only one Father, whose reign Jesus announces as near - the reign of God. He is the only Father. That is why this is left out. Jesus wants to say: “You have given yourselves over to this Father alone. He is now your Father. You get God for a Father.” Then another reference is made to persecutions: You must reckon with this, that you will be persecuted for Christ’s sake, for the sake of the Gospel. You often notice this in your own Christian community or family. If you pray one “Our Father” too many you are already almost persecuted - you are already considered excessive.
“... and eternal life in the age to come.” (cf. verse 30c)
This “eternal life” is not compensation for a failed life here. That is not what it means - but: Eternal life is the completion of a successful life, is the completion of a life that has been lived in the freedom of renunciation, just as Jesus demanded of his disciples and of us in today’s Gospel. When I have renounced all attachments, when I no longer lean on wealth - materially, mentally, spiritually, on people - but solely on the Father in heaven, solely on God, then that is a happy life. Renunciation - in freedom! Eternal life is the great thing that is then given to us. The following sentence is not in today’s Gospel: “But many that are first will be last, and (the) last will be first.” (cf. verse 31) But he is actually one of them. For the “last,” that is, those who have nothing, the last who have earned nothing, they will be first. Everything is given to them. And those who think they can earn heaven, the first, they will be last. So, we should stand before God in this perfect poverty and humility, and then, guaranteed, everything will simply be given to us.
An important Gospel that gets under your skin! It has to do with our existence, every day. If you engage with it, you will come into greater freedom, namely: into the freedom of the children of God. ∎