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.” Mark 10:23-27

Understanding, appreciating, and most importantly, appropriating this passage begins with the question, “What does Jesus mean by the kingdom of God?” My guess is that the vast majority of people skip over the word kingdom and, in their minds, jump right off the page to their idea of  heaven. This view remains stuck at the level of the previous passage, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

The problem with that is that leads us to think of the kingdom of God in spatial terms rather than relational terms. This misses the deeper point.

First century Christians knew nothing about modern democracy but they were as familiar with the concept of “kingdoms” as we today are familiar with “nations”. Kingdoms then, and nations now, are human constructs. They are ways of organizing our common life. They come and they go. They rise and they fall. They are accidents of history. They, like the borders between them, are created by people, not by God.

But, far too often, that reality is forgotten.

In Jesus’ day, that meant that a leader like Caesar was not just a political leader, he was pontifex maximus, the head of the Roman imperial religion. From there it was just a hop, skip, and jump to declaring himself divine. Which he did. Do you see the problem with that?

We should always be very wary of earthly leaders assuming any version of the divine right of kings. Of co-opting religion for political purposes. As the old saying goes, “Power corrupts, and absolute power…is kinda nice….” Do you see the problem with that?

When Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, he isn’t speaking in oppositional terms. That is, he doesn’t offer himself as a new king in opposition to earthly kings or earthly kingdoms as if people have to choose one or the other – he speaks of the reality beneath the reality. He speaks in subversive terms. He isn’t going to attack the castle walls, he is going to remove the ground on which the castle sits.

The question isn’t “Will you serve Caesar?”, it is “How will you serve Caesar?” The recognition that we take our marching orders from God means that sometimes we toe Caesar’s line and sometimes we step on Caesar’s toes. Remember how Jesus taught that lesson using one of Caesar’s coins?

Finally, we know that it is very rare, if not impossible, for any but the wealthy to attain positions of power and influence. Whatever human governance structure is in place, wealth either props it up or brings it down. Wealth is never an end in itself, it is always a means to an end. Wealth gets its way – and in that – wealth gets in the way.

Unless we ask the right question. “Good Teacher, I have many possessions. How can I best use them to love my neighbor?

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we too have many possessions. As Americans, we live in the wealthiest place in the world. May we never forget how dangerous that is. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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