I prayed, and prudence was given me;
I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.
I preferred her to scepter and throne,
and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her,
nor did I liken any priceless gem to her;
because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand,
and before her, silver is to be accounted mire.
Beyond health and comeliness I loved her,
and I chose to have her rather than the light,
because the splendor of her never yields to sleep.
Yet all good things together came to me in her company,
and countless riches at her hands.
Brothers and sisters:
Indeed the word of God is living and effective,
sharper than any two-edged sword,
penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow,
and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.
No creature is concealed from him,
but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him
to whom we must render an account.
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up,
knelt down before him, and asked him,
"Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good?
No one is good but God alone.
You know the commandments: You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother."
He replied and said to him,
"Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth."
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
"You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
At that statement his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
"How hard it is for those who have wealth
to enter the kingdom of God!"
The disciples were amazed at his words.
So Jesus again said to them in reply,
"Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."
They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves,
"Then who can be saved?"
Jesus looked at them and said,
"For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.
All things are possible for God."
Peter began to say to him,
"We have given up everything and followed you."
Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands
for my sake and for the sake of the gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:
houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands,
with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come."
Perhaps no passage of the Christian Scriptures is more misunderstood than today’s gospel pericope.
It certainly fits the category of what the author of Hebrews refers to as a “two-edged sword,” cutting no matter which side you grab. It separates boys from men, girls from women, exposing those who are actually in this “faith-thing” for real, and those who are using it just to get into heaven. As the Wisdom writer promises, those who make it part of their lives will discover “all good things come together” because of it.
The man asks Jesus a question all of us has asked: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In other words, “What do I have to do to get into heaven?”
The gospel Jesus answers as a good Pharisee. “Obey Yahweh’s commandments.” When the man assures him he’s already done this, we presume Jesus says, “Great, you’re on the road to heaven.” But he then adds, “There’s more to life than just getting into heaven. How would you like to experience God’s kingdom right here and now? To pull that off you’ve got to sell what you have, give to the poor . . . then come follow me.” Contrary to popular belief, Jesus didn’t begin his public ministry to help people get into heaven. Good Jews were already doing this. He closed his carpentry business and began preaching to help people experience God effectively working in their lives right now, long before they pass through the pearly gates.
Unfortunately, the price to experience God’s kingdom is too high for the man. “His face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” As long as he can get into heaven without it, he’s not going to go for the extra credit.
Jesus’ disciples are also befuddled. That’s not the kind of “salvation” for which they bargained. They don’t think anyone is capable of successfully pulling off such a lifestyle, no matter the rewards. Jesus agrees, even employing an idiom for impossibility: a camel going through a needle’s eye. “If you’re determined to make lots of money in life, you’ve got the chance of a snowball in hell of surfacing God’s kingdom. You can only rely on God’s power, not your own, to pull this off.”
But, on the other hand, if you actually give yourself over to God and “. . . give up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel . . .,” look at the rewards you’ll receive both right here and now and in the future.
No biblical scholar believes these verses are the proof text for the “evangelical virtues,” dividing Christianity between laity (who just follow the commandments) and clergy/religious who also accept the responsibility of poverty, chastity and obedience. Our sacred authors make no such division. The faith of Jesus is offered to all.
As I’ve mentioned before, spiritual writer Jack Shea once observed that the historical Jesus was concerned with answering just three questions: What do you want from life? Where do you get it? How much does it cost? The inquisitive man who interrupted Jesus’ journey didn’t like the answer he gave for the third question. Yet because most of us have studied our faith from a catechism instead of Scripture, we might not even know what first question to ask. The gospel Jesus shows us we can actually ask for more than we were taught to ask. What a waste just to be limited to the afterlife. Look at what we’re missing between then and now. Jesus not only provides the answers to Shea’s questions, he also provides the questions, whether we want them or not.