15People were bringing even infants to Jesus that He might touch them. When the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it, 16but Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 17Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
18A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 20You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother.’” 21He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” 22When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 23But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. 24Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25Indeed, 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.” 26Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.” 28Then Peter said, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30who will not get back very much more in this age, and, in the age to come, eternal life.”
Text © New Revised Standard Version alt, used with permission.
The poor disciples had some difficulty getting things right, even in the presence of Christ. This, of course, isn’t the only time that they were getting in the way of people being close to Christ: there was also the time when the disciples were stopping people from healing others because they weren’t part of the disciples’ group. I’m not sure whether that’s a case of big-noting themselves – we’re the ones with Christ’s authority to do those things, so stop doing them – or just a misunderstanding of the impact that Jesus was having on people’s lives. I cry every time I hear the second verse of this extract from Luke, because Jesus said to the disciples, the ones whom He was training to carry on after He left His earthly ministry, to let the children come to Him. Many pictures have been painted over the centuries of Jesus welcoming young children, wrapping His arms around them, and having them sit on His knees, yet that is precisely what the church of today is chastising its clergy and trainees for doing. We have let the misdemeanours of a small few clergy and lay leaders stop us from following in Christ’s footsteps, and welcoming children with open arms and a Christian love which they will not find anywhere else. Are our church leaders today behaving like the disciples in this story, and trying to prevent children from getting to the church, even if their motives are well-intended for the protection of children? I’ll leave that for you to ponder.
When Jesus said “whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” He was not suggesting that we should be childish in our approach to God. Just as a little child, growing up in a loving household, will have childish moments, it is not those to which Jesus was referring, but the child-like simplicity of the relationship with the earthly, and ultimately the heavenly, father. Young children trust their parents without judging them. Underlying the childish “I don’t love you because you won’t give me what I want” is the child-like trust which says “I do really love you, but right now you’re annoying me.” There is nothing wrong with having that same experience in our relationship with God. Given God’s sense of humour and brinksmanship it’s highly likely that we’ve all had times when we could tell God we don’t love Him, even though the bond is too tight to break. We clutter our lives with too much which doesn’t matter, and fail to be like Mary in the Mary and Martha story, taking time to be with God, to listen, and to be refreshed.
That clutter is, of course, very much behind the problem of the rich man in the second part of this passage. Did you pick up on that link before I mentioned it?
The passage refers to “a certain ruler” who remains unnamed and without any official title. It could be someone with land over which he had authority; it could have been a temple ruler; it could have been a Roman soldier; it could have been many different people. The fact that we aren’t told how this person ruled allows us to apply the approach to anyone. For the Pharisees, keeping to the letter of the law was of the utmost importance: if you kept the commandments you would be blessed by God, so knowing, and applying, those commitments (a better translation of the Hebrew) was all some people thought was necessary. Once again, Paul’s favourite response fits: “God forbid!” What the man with many possessions (in today’s world think iPhones and iPads for everyone, house with seven bathrooms, several luxury cars) hadn’t addressed was sharing his wealth with others who are less fortunate than himself. Though Jesus told him to go and sell everything it’s reasonable to assume that He meant everything that the man didn’t NEED. Does that include my professional equipment that has sat idle for several years in the hope that it might be used again? Probably, but technology has advanced so much that what I have a personal attachment to is likely to be worth very little other than as collector’s items.
The concept of a camel going through the eye of a needle is, of course, hyperbole. Jesus wasn’t suggesting that a large desert-based animal could pass through the eye of something which could be lost in its own hair. He was, naturally, emphasising that someone attached to his or her riches and unwilling to share resources for the benefit of others, would find it impossible, from a human approach, to be allowed into the Kingdom of God. I note that Jesus then tells us that everything is possible for God. One priest I knew a few years back said that once someone is a paedophile, that person will always be a paedophile, yet I know of one man whose life was transformed when he encountered God while in prison, and who was so appalled by what he had done that he was a shining example of what God can make possible. In the paedophile world he was like the reformed drug addict or alcoholic.
Leaving friends and family for the sake of something you cannot physically see is a challenge for many of us, but if those friends and family members are also on the journey to the Kingdom then we really haven’t left them at all. It’s the people who refuse to take the first steps on the journey who are the ones we have left behind, and that can still be hard. God still loves them, and we’re challenged to do the same, because He separates the sin from the sinner, loving the sinner, but not the sin.
Here’s another twist: we who have faith are already rich, though not necessarily in monetary terms. Christ’s message to us then, is to give away our riches, knowing that God’s love for us is like The Magic Pudding: it never gets smaller and will never run out.