Matthew 19:16-30

“Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to 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 someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” 

Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, 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 fields, 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 will be first.”” Matthew 19:16-30

This is one of those Bible passages that reminds me that people have been wrestling with the words of Jesus for almost 2000 years. You just can’t pin Jesus down. He is relentlessly focused on following God wherever that takes him and that often leaves us spinning in place.

Today we hear again from the young man who shows up and asks Jesus what it will take for him to have eternal life. It is an important question. I notice immediately that, in the 10th chapter of Mark, the question comes out slightly differently. There the man asks what he has to do to “inherit” eternal life. (The same word is used in Luke 18:18 as Luke tells the same story.) Matthew, with a copy of Mark in front of him, changed the word from “inherit” to “have”. What does that tell us?

“Inherit” suggests that eternal life is something a person might receive off in the distant future. “Have” suggests that it is possible to live in eternal life now. Matthew sees eternal life as a certain quality of life available to us now, not merely a quantity of years on the other side of the grave. The gospel of John shares this same understanding.

The writer of 1 Timothy combines the teaching here about wealth and eternal life in 6:17-19, “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”

Eternal life has something to do with “the life that really is life.” Life like it is meant to be. Life as God intends it.

Whenever I read this passage I remember two things. I remember the commentators who try to explain some gate into the city of Jerusalem that was really narrow where a fully loaded camel couldn’t enter. I have no idea if that is true. And I think about the story of the monkey trap where a banana was placed in the bottom of a glass with a small opening at the top. The monkey would reach in, grab the banana, and then get stuck because getting his arm out required him to let go of the banana.

Maybe Jesus is saying the same thing here about our wealth, possessions, and eternal life.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we know the temptation of relying on our material success and all of our stuff to make us happy, to give us security, identity, and status. We hold on to all of this far too tightly. Help us to let go. To be generous. To live simply and to truly live. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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