A rich young man who had the best the world could offer – wealth and security – came to Jesus because he lacked one thing (Mark 10:17-27). There was something essential, something in his heart, that material wealth couldn’t satisfy. He had many possessions, but he didn’t have “eternal life”; he didn’t have the deep sense of meaning, purpose, and interior peace that he longed for. He came to Jesus, the miracle-worker, the rabbi everyone was talking about, to find what was missing. The answer he got was not what he was looking for.
Jesus reminds the young man of the importance of moral wealth by reviewing the basic commandments. He protested that he kept all the commandments – but Jesus spoke to the trouble in his heart. One thing kept him from giving himself whole-heartedly to God. While he lacked nothing in material goods, he was nonetheless possessive of what he had. He placed his hope and security in what he possessed. Jesus challenged him to make God his one true possession and treasure, by selling everything he owned and to follow Him. The young man went away sad.
Why did he go away from Jesus with great sorrow and sadness rather than with joy? His treasure and his hope for happiness were misplaced. Jesus challenged the young man because his heart was possessive. He was afraid to give to others for fear that he would lose what he had gained. He sought happiness and security in what he possessed rather than in who he could love and serve and give himself in undivided devotion.
Jesus tells his disciples it is difficult for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of God. They need to “sell all” for the treasure of the kingdom. After the young man refused to follow Jesus, Peter, wanted to know what he and the other disciples would get out of it since they had freely accepted Jesus’ offer to follow him unconditionally (Mark 10:28-30). Jesus spoke with honesty: Those who left all for him would receive a hundred times more now, even in this life, as well as unending life in the age to come.
Jesus did not hesitate to tell his disciples that they can expect both blessing from God and persecution from the world which is opposed to God and his ways. We should neither be surprised nor fear those who try to intimidate us or oppose us when we take a stand for God’s kingdom of truth and righteousness. No earthly reward or treasure can outmatch the joy and bliss of knowing God’s love, mercy, and peace and the joy of knowing that our names are written in heaven where we will dwell with God forever.
Then He said to the disciples, “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.” Jesus’ warning reminds us of the teaching of Old Testament wisdom: “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is perverse in his ways” (Proverbs 28:6; Psalm 37:16). “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; be wise enough to desist” (Proverbs 23:4).
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 in Palestine. 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 after dark. A normal sized man could enter that gate. A camel would have to have all items removed from it back in order to enter through the gate..
The Hebrew people, like many ancient people, thought wealth was a sign of God’s blessing; a mark of righteousness and worth. 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. But, Jesus was teaching people new ways of looking at the world. Wealth can make us falsely independent. Wealth can also lead us into hurtful desires and selfishness (see 1 Timothy 6:9-10). Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel that material wealth can often be an obstacle to a more satisfying type of wealth. Jesus pointed the young man towards the most important types of wealth, moral and spiritual wealth, by inviting him to “Sell everything and Come, follow me.”
We lose what we keep, and we gain what we give away. When we lose our lives for Jesus Christ, we gain a priceless treasure and an inheritance which lasts forever. The Lord himself is the greatest treasure we can have. Giving up everything else to have the Lord as our treasure is not sorrowful, but the greatest joy. Selling all that we have could mean many different things – letting go of attachments, friendships, influences, jobs, entertainments, styles of life – really anything that might stand in the way of our loving God first and foremost in our lives and giving him the best we can with our time, resources, gifts, and service.
Friendship with Jesus Christ is the “treasure” in heaven, the spiritual wealth that alone will satisfy our deepest yearnings for happiness, the abundance of wisdom that today’s First Reading speaks so eloquently about. That friendship requires humility and obedience, because Jesus Christ is more than a friend; he is God. We must be willing to trust him, obey him, follow him, even if it means giving up material wealth, popularity, and pleasure, in order to discover the true wealth that our souls desire.
Ever since Jesus uttered the cryptic statement of the “eye of the needle,” we have been looking for a way to embrace this passage as Truth, without actually having to believe it…or live it. We spend a lifetime trying to reason, and analyze, and explain it all away. We have been busy trying to find a loophole; an escape hatch; a back door; some fine print; a way out.
But what if it IS true? What if this saying is meant to be taken literally? That it is hard for the rich to enter heaven—very hard—in fact you might even say, impossible. What if wealth really IS a barrier to eternal life? What if God is truly calling us to give up everything we own? What if Mother Teresa and St. Francis and Pope Gregory the Great had it right all along? Where does that leave the rest of us?
Maybe it forces us to look deep into our own culture and choices. Maybe it reminds us that God’s view of poverty and wealth is not our own—that the Gospel message looks quite different when it’s viewed from the bottom up rather than from the top down. In our community , even the poorest among us are wealthy in the eyes of the world. Most of us are 82 times better off than the poorest of the world’s poor. We don’t appreciate this, since we are usually looking up at the few who have more.
Money cannot solve all our problems; its promise is false. Even the rich young man in today’s Gospel discovered that: he was thirsting for eternal life, for deeper meaning, something none of his possessions could give him. The classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life reminds us of this. The richest man in town, Mr Potter, is also the most miserable – by far. Whereas the man who is always just barely getting by, George Bailey, is Beaver Falls’ most valued and beloved citizen. True wealth goes beyond money.
God blesses us with the priceless treasures of his kingdom – freedom from fear and the griping power of sin, selfishness and pride which block his love and grace in our lives. Freedom from loneliness, isolation and rejection which keep his children from living together in love, peace, and unity. And freedom from hopelessness, despair, and disillusionment which blind our vision of God’s power to heal every hurt, bind every wound, and remove every blemish which mar the image of God within us. God offers us treasure which money cannot buy.
Stay humble…. The holes dug for us in the ground are all the same size.