In an era of growing income inequality, with many, for the first time, coming to recognize the plutocratic power of a few corporate conglomerates, it is easy to hear Sunday’s gospel lesson and think, “Oh, that’s not about me.” When Jesus says, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” and “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” the reaction of most 21st century American Christians is to look at least one step up on the economic ladder, shake our heads, and think, as the Pharisee once did, “Gee, I’m glad I’m not them.”
As I’ve said elsewhere, this temptation is one we should be wary of. Even the average minimum wage worker in the United States earns more than 93% of the rest of the world’s population. The monetarily rich, it would seem, aren’t that far away.
As preachers are wont to do, however, I can’t help but think if this passage from Mark is both about money and not about money. What if Jesus is using the example of the rich would-be-disciple to prove a larger point about faithfulness? In Eugene Peterson’s idiomatic bible translation, The Message, Peterson translates Matthew’s version of the beatitude about poverty thusly, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”
What if being rich isn’t just about money? What if being rich is about being comfortable. What if being rich is about self-reliance? Even if we are unwilling to characterize ourselves as fiscally rich, by virtue of our upbringing in self-reliant post World War 2 America, many of us are subject to this idea that we don’t need anyone else. Me and (maybe) my Jesus are all we need to get through life. When we look at the world this way, then yes, it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a person who is rich in self-reliance to enter the kingdom of God.
See, kingdom living is about trusting in God’s grace. Kingdom living is about turning outward, looking at the world through God’s eyes, and about seeing that existence isn’t just about me, myself, and I, but about the communities in which we live and move and have our being. Kingdom living is about taking all we have, giving it up for the good of the world God created, and following Jesus.
I’m not saying that Jesus’ encounter with the rich man isn’t about money – it is stewardship season, after all – but what I am suggesting is that if we think it is only about money, it becomes too easy to dismiss.
You might join with the disciples in throwing up your hands and wondering, “Who then can be saved?” I know I think that from time to time. Just remember the words of Jesus, “For mortals it is impossible,” that is, you can’t rely on your self to get it done, “bur not for God; for God all things are possible.”