As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
The story of the rich young ruler annoys me. I cannot sympathize with his problems. As a young, recent graduate, I do not have a lot of money to give away. I do not own many worthy possessions. Therefore, Jesus’ command to “go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor” does not resonate with me. Give money to the poor? What money? I am poor Jesus! Sure, just ask the rich young rulers to hand inheritances over to me. I could use it to pay off debts, fix my car or buy food for my family. Sure, share the wealth this way! However, my frustration with the rich young ruler’s possessions prevents me from understanding Jesus words. “How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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 language of rich and poor often limits our understanding of this passage. Although Jesus clearly states that a rich person will have trouble letting go of his or her possessions which prevents one from entering the kingdom of God – difficulty letting things go is not limited to possessions.
Jesus is not concerned with the young man’s commitment to commandments. Nor is he concerned with one’s commitment to God. Jesus is concerned with the valuing of others. Sharing possessions is a physical example Jesus offers for the valuing of other people besides the self. Jesus asks the rich young ruler to look outside of his own experience and seek to provide and support others in the community. And valuing others is not limited to monetary support, but includes giving financially. In addition, valuing others includes listening, advocating on another’s behalf, challenging, and assisting one to rise to the occasion. Therefore, Jesus is correct in his statement: “How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” None of these opportunities to provide value to another individual are easy. Listening to others can be annoying or time consuming. Advocating can be dangerous. Challenging another can seem mean rather than pastoral. And helping others rise to the occasion sounds nice but is much more difficult to employ. Valuing others is never easy; however, our attempts do not go unnoticed. Whether you possess money to share with others, or all you have is a listening ear and voice to rise on behalf of the voiceless, Jesus calls us to find the value in others and provide for them on God’s behalf.