Tuesday (August 20): Who can enter the kingdom of heaven?
Scripture: Matthew 19:23-30
23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “Behold, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. 30 But many that are first will be last, and the last first.
Meditation: Was Jesus really against wealth (Matthew 19:23)? And why did he issue such a strong warning to the rich (as well as to the rest of us who desire to be rich)? We know that Jesus was not opposed to wealth per se, nor was he opposed to the wealthy. He had many friends who were well-to-do, including some notorious tax collectors! One even became an apostle! Jesus’ warning reiterated the wisdom of the Old Testament: “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is perverse in his ways” (Proverbs 28:6; see also Psalm 37:16). “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; be wise enough to desist” (Proverbs 23:4).
We are all poor beggars in need of God Jesus seems to say that it is nearly impossible for the rich to live as citizens of God’s kingdom. The camel was regarded as the largest animal known by the Jews where Jesus lived and taught. The “eye of the needle” could be interpreted quite literally or it could figuratively describe the narrow and low gate of the city walls which was used by travelers when the larger public gate was locked at night. Normal sized people had to “lower” themselves to enter that gate. A camel would literally have to kneel and crawl through it. Until we humbly kneel before the Lord and acknowledge our total need and dependence on him, we will not find true peace, security, and happiness that can sustain us now and forever. Only God alone can satisfy our deepest need and longing.
Augustine of Hippo reminds us that we are all poor beggars of God.
“Even though you possess plenty, you are still poor. You abound in temporal possessions, but you need things eternal. You listen to the needs of a human beggar, yet you yourself are a beggar of God. What you do with those who beg from you is what God will do with his beggar. You are filled and you are empty. Fill your empty neighbor from your fullness, so that your emptiness may be filled with God’s fullness.” (Sermon 56,9)
Possessions can create false security and independence Why is Jesus so cautious about wealth? Wealth can make us falsely independent. The church at Laodicea was warned about their attitude towards wealth and a false sense of security: “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing” (Revelations 3:17). Wealth can also lead us into hurtful desires and selfishness (see 1 Timothy 6:9-10). Look at the lesson Jesus gave about the rich man and his sons who refused to aid the poor man Lazarus (see Luke 16:19ff). They neglected to serve God. Only those who put their trust in God and who depend on him, and who share what they have with those in need, will find true peace, security, and happiness which lead to everlasting life and joy in God’s kingdom.
Where is your treasure? The Scriptures give us a paradox – we lose what we keep and we gain what we give away. Generosity will be amply repaid, both in this life and in the age to come (Proverbs 3:9-10, Luke 6:38). Jesus offers us an incomparable treasure which no money can buy and no thief can steal. The thing we most set our heart on is our highest treasure. Material wealth will shackle us, like a bound slave, to this earth unless we guard our heart and set our treasure in God and his kingdom of everlasting life and joy. Where is your treasure?
“Lord Jesus, you have captured our hearts and opened to us the treasures of heaven. May you always be my treasure and delight and may nothing else keep me from giving you my all.”
8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints, to those who turn to him in their hearts. 9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. 10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. 11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. 12 Yes, the LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. 13 Righteousness will go before him, and make his footsteps a way.
Daily Quote from the early church fathers: Who can enter the kingdom of heaven? by John Chrysostom, 347-407 A.D.
“What then did Christ say? ‘How difficult it will be for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ He was not criticizing money itself but the wills of those who are taken captive by it. If it will be difficult for the rich, how much more so for the avaricious! For if stinginess with one s own wealth is an impediment to gaining the kingdom, think how much fire is amassed for taking someone else’s. But why does he say that it is hard for the rich man to enter the kingdom, to the disciples, who were poor and had nothing? He teaches them not to be ashamed of their poverty and, as it were, gives the reason why he did not allow them to possess anything. After saying it is hard, he also shows them that it is impossible, and not simply impossible but even in an exaggerated way impossible. He shows this from the comparison of the camel and the needle: ‘It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ Hence Christ demonstrates that there is a significant reward for the wealthy who can practice self-denial. He also said that this had to be the work of God, that he might show that great grace is needed for anyone who is going to achieve it.” (excerpt from THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 63.2)
Scripture quotations from Common Bible: Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1973, and Ignatius Edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 2006, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Citation references for quotes from the writings of the early church fathers can be found here.