When Jesus heard that, he said to him, "There's just one thing you're short of. Sell everything you own, and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven. Then come follow me." When he heard that he turned away very sad; he was extremely wealthy. Jesus saw that he had become sad, and said, "How hard it is for those with possessions to enter God's Kingdom." The people who heard it said, "So who can be saved?" "What's impossible for humans is possible for God." Mark 10:22-27 In the perspective of most western evangelicalism, Jesus has said, in this passage, that it is nearly impossible for rich people to become Christians. But since nothing is impossible for God, some rich people will indeed become Christians, but only because they happen to be "chosen" or the "elect". In other words, God has to give them the heart and ability to repent because they certainly won't find the strength to repent within themselves.
Once again, I want to argue that this is completely convoluted thinking. If you were to take this line of thinking, you would have to say the same thing about everybody (as most Calvinists do), that nobody at all would come to Jesus unless God first choose them and gave them a heart to repent. We are all destined for rebellion and Hell in the understanding of many, unless God chooses to give us a new and different heart. But if you take this line, you have to conclude that this exchange with the "rich young ruler", as he has come to be known, has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that he is rich. The Calvinist's approach flattens this out into simply a somber statement about the doctrine of election. I have always failed to see the value of articulating such a doctrine since my response to the teaching is predetermined as well. But I am not writing this simply to posture an attack on Calvinism. I am writing this blog so that we might gain a better understanding of what Jesus IS in fact saying. What is going on in this scene? Why was it relevant to the first hearers of the Gospel and why is it still relevant today?
Jesus is heading up a movement made up of mostly a poor peasant society. He is announcing the arrival God's Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven (the Gospel). He is headed to Jerusalem where confrontation with the powers is bound to take place. In the minds of the disciples, this endeavor is going to take money. They need weapons and an army. And when the conflict is over and the Kingdom of God is established, it is going to take money to rebuild the infrastructure of the Holy City. But here Jesus is declaring that it is nearly impossible for rich people to enter the Kingdom of God! If this is so, declare the disciples, then how can any of us be saved?! We can't win this war with sticks and stones! What concerns the disciples is not their place "in eternity", whatever that exactly means, but whether or not they can be delivered from their oppressive enemies and from all that has gone wrong within God's good creation. How are they going to do it without money? Peter speaks up and wants assurance from Jesus: "Look here, we have left everything and followed You." Mark 10:28 And they had. Remember that the disciples gave up those careers as fishermen, tax-collectors, whatever, to take up the cause for their families and the Kingdom of God. Now Jesus is claiming that He will establish God's Kingdom without the wealth of the wealthy?! This is alarming talk. And the disciples probably know by now that it is not just talk. But Jesus gives Peter His assurance: "I'll tell you the truth," replied Jesus. "No one who has left a house, or brothers or sisters or mothers, or fathers, or children, or lands because of me and the gospel will fail to receive back a hundred times more in the present age: houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and lands--with persecutions!--and finally the life of age to come. But plenty of people at the front will end up at the back, and the back at the front." Mark 10:29-31 This is the very heart and soul of Jesus' kingdom of God movement. Conventional wisdom, common methods of the exertion of power, particular social orders will not stand after the establishment of God's Kingdom. Jesus is bringing a new way of doing wealth, power and authority. Many of the old ways will be stood on their head. That is why Jesus can turn away a rich man whose wealth might have been able to help the cause without flinching. Jesus knew that the kingdom He was establishing and the work He was intending to accomplish did not require the wealth of the wealthy. God was establishing a world where love will be the greatest currency. Does that sound like nonsense to you? It did to the disciples too. That is why they were incredulous. But Jesus' answer remains the same today as it did then: "It's impossible for mortals, but it is not impossible for God. All things are possible for God." (Mark 10:27).