Wednesday, April 05, 2006

To Enter the Kingdom of God

Can a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven—or do you have to be poor?

The Bible says a young man asked Jesus what he had to do to gain eternal life. And Jesus told him to obey the commandments. The man said he had always kept the commandments. “What do I still lack?” he asked. Jesus told him he should sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor so that he would “have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The young man went away, very sad, “because he had great wealth.” Jesus’ disciples were there, listening. This must have been an awkward and disturbing moment for them.

This comes from Matthew 19, verses 16-26, in the NIV translation of the Bible. I looked at the more informal, paraphrase-type version in The Message, and I like how it presents the rest of this scene.

As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.”

The disciples were staggered. “Then who has any chance at all?”

Jesus looked hard at them and said, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.”

I believe the key to the central question lies in what Jesus said, with that piercing look. Here’s the real point of the whole scene: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.”

I don’t think he meant that people have to literally sell all their possessions; he often spoke in ways that had multiple meaning. I believe he meant that the wealthy are just like the rest of us. If we value anything more highly than God, we don’t have a chance of entering his kingdom.

If we think we can take care of our own problems—unload our own baggage—dump out the trash of our lives—all by ourselves, we’ll get our chance to do that. And we’ll find out that we can’t do it. Usually, we have to hit bottom before we realize what control freaks we have been and give over to him our precious, beloved “control of our own lives.” We find out that all our “cool stuff” like our computers, cell phones, MP3’s, and sports cars can’t come close to filling the empty holes in our hearts. The list is long of celebrities who have drug addiction problems and terrible unhappiness, in spite of all their riches and fame. Wealth can’t buy peace of mind.

It is harder, certainly, for people who have plenty of money to come to the place where they realize that God is the only source of lasting peace. After all, they are more able to buy what the world teaches us we need for peace and fulfillment, things—more and more possessions. And they can, for a while, at least, afford to buy drugs and alcohol, those substances that give people a temporary, imitation sense of peace.

On the other hand, there’s a long list of wealthy people who love God, who realize that their riches are gifts from him, to be used for good purposes, according to his guidance. Their hearts are peaceful, humble, and generous. They follow his direction, help other people, share their possessions—and belong to the kingdom of God.

It isn’t the fact of having riches that causes despair and keeps a person out of the kingdom of God. It’s a heart condition, the fact that a heart, wealthy or not, doesn’t know God. It is love that brings peace—love comes from God. His love brings us into his kingdom, regardless of whether we are rich or poor.

1 comment:

ts said...

yes! Jesus definitely wants our hearts. that's why He said, "for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

sometimes, i'm perplexed by those who argue against tithing, saying it's unbiblical. they may have a point, actually, but think of the alternative: God may ask you to sell all your possessions! i believe that if we are not willing to give at least 10 percent, then maybe we are like the rich young man.

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