As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, we see his triumphal entry. Before that we will get lessons on stewardship and the lordship of Christ.
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In Luke 18:24-25, after his interaction with the rich (young) ruler, Jesus declares,
24 … How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
It is difficult, but not impossible, because, as Jesus points out, in v.27,
What is impossible with man is possible with God.
In Luke 19, we get an example.
He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
For the rich ruler in the last chapter, eternal life was something of an ambition. It was a goal he hoped to achieve. “What would it take for me to get it?” He asked, assuming there was some particular effort or accomplishment from his side that would merit such a prize. When Jesus challenged him to give up his possessions, he became sad. He never saw that coming.
We might suppose the ruler’s riches were, in his mind, a sign of his virtue. He was either from a well-bred, respectable family or had earned his way to riches through honest work and astute business acumen. Satisfied with the status he enjoyed, he saw eternal life as the same sort of thing. “Good people like me are rewarded by God, ” was the basis of his religious and ethical philosophy. This is really the opposite of grace and is an outlook which leaves no room for repentance.
Zacchaeus is different. He seems to value Jesus more than anything else. Being short and unable to see the Savior, he is content to climb a tree to get a glimpse of him. Jesus freely offering to come to his house is a completely unmerited blessing. Without any prompting, he intuitively grasps that his dishonest gains are an issue. This is “fruit in keeping with repentance” as John the Baptist might have called it. The greedy, wealthy swindler has become generous. A rich man has entered the kingdom.
Dearest heavenly Father,
You have so constructed this world that it has become, for us, a place to prepare for eternity. Help us to get our hearts in the right place and keep them there – focused on you and not on ourselves, our possessions or our worldly pleasures. Help us to use what material goods we have to serve you and prepare ourselves treasure in heaven.
Help us to see our trials as a gift from you, especially designed to train us and lead us to Jesus. Your servant James once wrote (James 1:2-4) that we should, “Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
That’s what we want to be – “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” To the extent that we must endure trials, experience pain and undergo suffering, let it be for your glory and the honor of the name of Jesus Christ.
Most Christians and many others are familiar with the story of the Rich Young Ruler, which, by the way, takes data from the combined Gospels to know these things (rich, young, a ruler) about him. Here it is from the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 10.
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
The man was obviously religious. He was certainly concerned about the state of his soul and his standing before God, but his commitment also had its limits. This fellow, by his own assessment, is not guilty of anything scandalous at all. Jesus does not argue will that. Christ does, however, point out that there is that one thing, his possessions, that are standing in the way of this man and eternal life. His stuff had become his idol.
Based on this story alone, it would be going too far to say that wealth is a problem for everyone or that it is always a problem wherever it is found. It certainly can be, though, so it makes a good place for us to start in assessing ourselves. Even poor people can be covetous and overly tied to their belongings. For rich people the temptation is even worse.
Once we look at the areas of wealth and covetousness, we might actually determine that areas like these are not our biggest besetting sins. Maybe we are truly generous. Maybe riches are not, for us, an idol. Fine, but maybe something still is.
The thing that impresses me most about this encounter of a random inquirer and Jesus is Christ’s ability to see beyond his generally high level of obedience to the commandments of God. OK, so maybe he is no thief, murderer, adulterer or deceiver in any major way. But maybe there is something else. His riches, perhaps? There is no commandment against owning stuff, only commandments not to be covetous or greedy and to be generous in considering the poor, etc.
It’s not a simple rubric to use in giving ourselves a grade. I my give regularly, but do I give enough? I guess I want this thing or that, but is that covetousness or just a reasonable desire? How am I supposed to know? We may not know for sure, but in the case in question, Jesus did. He pointed out to the man that one thing and it happened to be his possessions.
Perhaps for us there is also that one thing. Maybe the right question to ask is, “If God asked me to give up anything, is there some request that would cause me to say no?” Or worded differently, “Is there something Jesus might ask me to sacrifice that would so dishearten me that I would go away sorrowful rather than throw the thing away?” If there is, we are in the same position as this man in the story.
Any relationship, possession or position that I might consider more important than Jesus is probably my real god, my dead, debilitating idol. As we know, God hates idols. Therefore, so should we.