By John Yieh
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 10:23-31
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 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.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions — and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
The disciples were perplexed when Jesus said it was hard for wealthy people to enter the kingdom of God. We are also perplexed to hear Jesus’ hyperbole that it is easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle. Translation: it’s impossible!
Jesus was deeply saddened, seeing the law-abiding rich man trudging away because he could not let go of his possessions to feed the poor and follow Jesus. Precisely because wealth is so enticingly good, it can easily trump our desire for eternal life.
We all feel for the rich man’s conundrum and hope that we don’t have to choose between wealth and God. Why can’t we have both, if the wealth is honestly earned and if it is used to serve the purposes of God’s kingdom? Yes, I suppose we can, if the two conditions are indeed met. Clement of Alexandria made exactly the point in his famous homily, “Who is the rich man who shall be saved?” (c. 200 AD). However, wealth and God are in constant competition for our allegiance, so the challenge boils down, at some point, to the hard choice of one over the other.
Money is necessary and good. It provides us with resources for life, motivation for work, joy for accomplishment, and possibility for charities. Ironically, because it is so necessary and good, it easily becomes an idol for us and a blockage to the kingdom of God. Knowing the temptation of money, Jesus reminds us of God’s power to help and reassures us of the abundant reward for leaving it behind for the sake of the gospel. The key to the money question is therefore not intellectual but spiritual. If we choose serving God as the priority, we can follow John Wesley’s advice: “earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.”
The Rev. John Yueh Han Yieh, Ph.D., is professor in New Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary and a New Testament editor for the Bible Society in Taiwan. Dr. Yieh enjoys his teaching ministry at VTS and is a frequent preacher and speaker in the U.S. and Asia.
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