Matthew 19:23-26 (NIV) Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
It was a common teaching at the time of Jesus that the only way a person got rich was if God was greatly pleased with them and funneled wealth their way. This teaching brought great comfort to the rich (who were thus assured of God’s great love for them), and great consternation to the poor (who were puzzled as to what in their lives was blocking this great blessing).
But now a wealthy man had walked away from Jesus because of His statement that his wealth was actually getting between him and eternal life! And then Jesus doubled down on this statement by saying that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom. Jesus was not just saying that it was difficult or tricky, but pretty much impossible for great wealth and the kingdom of heaven to exist in the same person’s heart.
In one sense, this should not have surprised Jesus’ followers. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had flatly said that it was impossible (not merely difficult) to serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24), because serving both would require giving mastery to both, but only one master can be actually be served in a person’s life, and most people, given the choice, choose money. But hearing that in isolation on a mountain, and hearing it stated so starkly after watching a man choose money over the kingdom of God struck the disciples completely differently. If those who had been given abundant material blessings by God could not get into God’s kingdom, who could possibly be saved?
Jesus’ answer was both pithy and profound: It is impossible for man in his own strength to break himself free from the mastery of money and other material possessions. The lure of such things is simply too strong, and once a person has them, they find that worrying about them, working to keep and protect them, and struggling to grow them becomes by itself a nearly full-time job. And as a person’s focus is drawn to those things, their relationship with God quickly falls by the wayside.
But with God all things are possible. A person with an absolutely rock-solid relationship with God, whose heart is solidly committed to putting Him first and has been purged from a love of money, can be trusted to use worldly wealth for the interests of God’s kingdom without getting snared by it. In this sense, a rich person getting into heaven is an impossibility on a par with raising someone four days dead. It can’t be done by any human means, but God Himself can do it easily.
Father, the love of money really can shut the doors of the kingdom to those who fall prey to its snares. Such idolatry cannot exist in people who name You as Lord. But I praise You that, through Your power and strength, all things are possible, even having great wealth while being immune to its lordship. Amen.