And Jesus said unto his disciples, “Verily I say unto you, It is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
And when the disciples heard it, they were astonished exceedingly, saying, “Who then can be saved?”
And Jesus looking upon them said to them, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:23-26).
One hotly contested aspect of Jesus’ teachings involves His words toward those who are rich in material wealth. Some have taken Jesus’ words and made them a call for a more level playing field. Others take the opposite approach and attempt to minimize these teachings and try to find some way to glorify wealth. Many have the same question as the disciples. Some wonder how just it is for Jesus to come down so harshly on the rich.
Jesus’ words were not designed to overthrow the concept of money or wealth. Nor is it an absolutely true statement that all rich people are going to be condemned (1 Timothy 6:9-10, 17-19). Yet Jesus’ words do strike at the heart of the problems with wealth.
These words are spoken immediately after the “rich young ruler” departs from Jesus sorrowfully. This young man wanted to inherit eternal life and even had great respect for the Law (Matthew 19:16-20). Nevertheless, when asked to give up all his wealth and to follow Jesus, he walked away (Matthew 19:21-22).
What would lead this young man to make such a fateful decision? Jesus perceived that he trusted his wealth more than God. His material wealth kept him from the Kingdom of God.
We must greatly respect Jesus’ statement that it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven without turning it into an absolute. Wealth casts a strong spell upon people. Wealth provides the illusion of stability and contentment: if we have much stored up, we end up entrusting our future to our wealth and not so much on God. Wealth rarely comes without great effort expended to obtain it, and for those who desire great wealth, what they have is rarely enough (Ecclesiastes 5:10). Covetousness, selfishness, arrogance, and idolatry often mark those who have wealth.
Who do we trust? We have learned the lesson that riches are uncertain (1 Timothy 6:17), but that has not stopped many from continuing to press on after wealth. Yet there is no true stability there. Salvation can never be found in riches, no matter how vast (Matthew 16:26). We must trust in God, the One who is able to accomplish what is impossible for mankind.
How do we know whom we trust? Put yourself in the shoes of that rich young ruler. If Jesus asked you personally to sell all that you have, give to the poor, obtain treasure in Heaven, and follow after Him, would you be willing to do so? Or would you also go away sorrowfully? We all know the answer that we should give, but would that be the answer we would give?
Let us not put our trust in the uncertain material wealth of the world that causes anxiety for so many. Instead, let us trust in the Lord of Heaven and Earth, and obtain the peace that comes from Him (Matthew 6:33-34, Matthew 28:18, Philippians 4:4-7)!
Ethan R. Longhenry