Summary: In the parable of the rich young ruler, he was on a quest to find what was missing in his life, a quest everyone is on.
What do you think this red paperclip is worth? Do you think I could trade this red paperclip to someone for a house? You say, “Impossible!” What if I told you someone actually traded a red paperclip for a house? I’m not making this up. In 2005, a Canadian named Kyle McDonald was stuck in a dead-end job and had very little money. He decided to go online and see what he could trade for the paperclip. First, he traded it for a fish-shaped ink pen, which he then traded for doorknob, which he traded for a Coleman stove. He traded the Coleman stove for a Honda generator, which he traded for a keg of beer and an electric Budweiser sign. He traded the keg and the sign for a snowmobile, and so it continued. Exactly one year and 14 trades later he exchanged an acting part in a movie for a two-story farmhouse in Kipling, Saskatchewan.
You can find the story by Googling One Red Paperclip, which is the title of a book Kyle wrote. From a red paperclip to a two-story house, you say, “Impossible!” Nope, that’s just an example of what human imagination, ingenuity and persistence can do. People can do a lot of things that seem impossible. For most of the centuries of human history the idea of man flying seemed impossible, but now it’s ordinary. But in our passage today, Jesus employed a humorous one-sentence parable to tell us there is something that really IS impossible for a person.
Matthew 19:16-26. “Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’ ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.’ ‘Which ones?’ the man inquired. Jesus replied, ‘‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’’ ‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’ Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man 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 a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’”
I’ve mentioned before that Jesus often employed humor in his teaching. He would have never made the cast of Saturday Night Live, because we don’t appreciate 1st century Jewish humor. Jesus used hyperbole and irony. Hey, did you hear the one about the camel? Stop me if you’ve heard it. Jesus said it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Ha! That’s a good one. I think Jesus must have liked camel jokes. In Matthew 23 He said that the Pharisees strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. What a funny picture! That’s actually an Aramaic pun, because the word “gnat” is galma, and the word “camel” is gamal – they sound alike. Jesus said, “You guys strain out galmas and swallow gamals!” Hoo! That’s a great pun! That ranks right up there with the one about the cross-eyed teacher who got fired because she couldn’t keep her pupils straight. See you got that one!
As we unpack this parable of impossibility, let’s notice four truths about this passage:
1. EVERYONE IS ON A QUEST TO FIND REAL LIFE
This young man ran up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Matthew, Mark, and Luke record this encounter. He is often called the rich young ruler because Mark tells us he was young, Luke tells us he was a ruler, and all three mention he was rich; in fact we are told that he had great wealth. He would have been on the Forbes Magazine list of the richest men in Israel. He was the Bill Gates of his time.
Yet, he wasn’t satisfied with wealth and power. He realized something was missing, so he asked Jesus how he could get eternal life. This young man was sincere in his request. Mark tells us he ran up to Jesus and knelt before Him. He was obsessed with finding an answer to his quest for real life.