And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person 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 person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
(Matthew 19:23-30 ESV)
Jesus doesn’t say, “the rich can’t inherit the kingdom of God.” He doesn’t ever tell us that wealth, in-and-of itself, is wrong. What he does tell us is that having great possessions makes grasping the things of God very difficult, and grasping great possessions makes it impossible.
In the iconic moment in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, archeologist Elsa Schneider so badly wants the cup of Christ, the Holy Grail, that she ends up hanging from a cliff over a bottomless abyss, just out of reach of the cup. Indiana Jones offers her his hand, but she keeps reaching for the cup, and ultimately falls to her death.
What is clear is this: you can possess things or be possessed by them. And it isn’t just money. Who then can be saved?
A possibly apocryphal story from Martin Luther’s life sheds some light here. Luther was in the process of translating the Scriptures into German. A bishop came to him, horrified at the prospect of the Word being in any other language than latin, and said, “Brother Martin, what would happen if the Bible was in the common tongue of the masses?” Luther replied, “Why bishop! There’d probably be more Christians!” The implication was that if the people could read the Bible for themselves, they’d probably find Christ all by themselves. That doesn’t put bishops out of a job necessarily, but no one likes giving up control.
Who then can be saved? Without veering into licentiousness, Jesus speaks to the two great political/moral questions of the church these past 40 years. Can abortionists and gays be saved? Heh… can Democrats be saved? Jesus’ answer is unequivocal. If they can’t be saved, then neither can anyone else. Man makes it impossible for them to be saved when the church is unwilling to let anyone deal directly with Jesus. As in Luther’s day, the club is only safe as long as we’re calling the shots on who gets into the club.
Just so, if those the church dubs to be sinners (“unacceptable” sinners, as opposed to those of us with more common sins like anger, gossip, and back-biting) were to be invited into the church to hear the Word preached, to worship, to fellowship, and yes, to participate with us, isn’t it possible that God could bring whatever healing they need, whatever repentance is necessary, to their lives? As Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
So Jesus… if I can’t hold onto my wealth; if I can’t hold onto my control of the church; if I can’t hold onto my self-centered way of relating to people; if I can’t hold onto whatever else is broken in me that I have always defended before you as “just how I am,” what then will I have when you come into your kingdom?
“You will have whatever you gave – only you’ll have it whole. Did you give me broken relationships? You’ll have them 100 times over, whole. Did you give me wealth? In the coming age you’ll have more of everything you could possibly want and it will all be Mine, and I will share it with you, and you will be satisfied in a way you never were before. Did you give me your broken sexuality? I will teach you what beloved means.”
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price! Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isaiah 55:1-2 ESV)