Parallel Texts: Matthew 19:1 – 20:16; Luke 18:15-30
Jesus has now left Galilee behind and crossed into Judea, and the crowds are large. In the first part of this passage, the Pharisees attempt to trap Him with a question about divorce. Surely they are aware of His teaching on the subject in the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus took a tough stand on the subject, saying that divorce is not permissible except for “unfaithfulness”. Pleas recall that “unfaithfulness” is a covenant term, and not always a sexual term. Apparently, the Pharisees hoped to catch Jesus in a legal trap, since divorce was permitted under the Law of Moses, but as you might expect, they were no match for Him.
Then there is the incident of the little children being kept away from Jesus by His disciples, and Jesus’ displeased reaction much as we have seen before. Then Jesus has a visit from a rich guy, a visit that brings the first two incidents into sharp focus.
It seems that this rich guy was quite a righteous man, and Jesus had an interesting reaction:
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
The man told Jesus that he had kept the commandments since he was a boy, and Jesus looked at him and loved him. I highly doubt that Jesus loved the man because the man had somehow “purchased” His love by keeping commandments; clearly the man had a good heart and desired to follow God. Yet in the end, he goes away sad, for he was very wealthy. Before we continue, I must point out that the text does not say that the man didn’t do as Jesus asked, it only says that he was sad.
In verses 23-26, we see the reaction of the disciples to all of this, and Jesus’ teaching on the subject. The disciples were surprised that it is difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom, Jesus underscores the point with a little bit of hyperbole: “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people cite this and claim the rich are all going to hell, but that is foolish talk, and more about modern-day politics than Jesus’ teaching… this is hyperbole to make a point: It’s hard! The disciples ask how anyone can be saved, and Jesus gives the answer that sums up this section:
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Neither you nor I can force our way into heaven, but with God we can get there. We are imperfect, we mess up, we stumble around and struggle with rule books and traditions and the things of this world, but God makes all things possible through Christ. This rich guy had a great deal of earthly wealth, and that is hard to walk away from, and the same is true today. If a person is homeless, with nothing to their name but the shirt on their back, they have nothing to lose in following Christ, but someone with a great deal…? They have a great deal to lose. Yet for each one of us, there is more in following Jesus than leaving money or wealth behind, for these are only physical things; we are called to leave self behind, and that is hard for any one of us to do, no matter what our balance sheet may say.
But with God, all things are possible!
Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
The disciples had left their livelihoods and careers behind to follow Jesus, many will be called to do that, and others may need to leave their families behind, but all will receive much more both in this life and in eternity, and when we are willing to follow Jesus and leave all of the old ways behind, our God is ever-faithful to keep His promises. It is true that many will say we’re crazy, for setting self aside for this is not the way of this world, but it is God’s way; it is the line that separates those who are in Christ from those who refuse to follow Him.