In Mark 10:17-27, we have the story of the wealthy man who kept all the commandments save one.
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 men it is impossible, but not for God.
All things are possible for God.”
On the surface, this story of the man who kept the commandments but couldn’t give up his wealth might seem to be about how hard it is for the wealthy to get into heaven. Clearly, Jesus loved the man’s eagerness to please God. And there is no indication that Jesus stopped loving the man though the man left torn over the idea of giving away his possessions. In fact, we never find out whether he indeed ever sold them and gave the proceeds to the poor.
But I think there’s more to this story than what appears on the surface. This isn’t just about the tendency of the wealthy to hold onto their wealth. Note that Jesus doesn’t just tell the man to sell his wealth and give it to the poor. He also tells the man to follow Him.
I continue to refer to Jesus’ answer to the scribes and pharisees who when they asked Jesus what was the most important commandment responded that it was to love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. And it may be that this is what is at the heart of this story in Mark.
The man loved God enough to keep the commandments, but when it came time to sell off his possessions and follow Jesus, that’s apparently where his love ended. And when it came time to love his neighbor, the idea of selling his possessions and giving them to the poor – still his neighbors – that’s where his love ended.
The man was more in love with his wealth, his possessions, than he was in love with God and his neighbors. And that is why it is so hard for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. God allows us to have wealth. He may even give us wealth as a gift to share with others. When we act counter to His intentions, we show disrespect or disregard for Him. We show Him a lack of love. Where our treasure is, that is where our hearts are, as Jesus says elsewhere.
The disciples asked, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus responded that it’s impossible for man but it’s not impossible for God. Everything is possible with God. And what are we to make of that? Does that mean we can ignore the whole thing about loving God and loving one another and sharing God’s gifts with each other — that it doesn’t matter if the wealthy have a hard time getting to heaven? No! It means we need to turn all things over to God, who loves us, and all things will come to us. It means give up our earthly attachments and love God and one another as God commands and all other things will come to pass. Be with God, in whom all things are possible.
God is love. It’s a pure love. He loved a man who got the letter of the law right but missed the intent of the law. I have no doubt that Jesus continued to love that man though that man failed to immediately respond to Jesus’ teaching. And perhaps what we don’t know from this reading is that the man eventually responded to Jesus’ love and sold off his possessions, gave them to the poor, and followed Jesus, even if not as a close disciple. And in that way, in God all things are possible.
It may indeed be hard for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God, then, but it is not impossible.