Summary: A sermon preached 10/18/2009 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Audubon, Iowa. Jesus teaches us that it’s not "all about me" in this world, but "All about Christ"
Some of you have probably been in the mall and seen those T-shirt kiosks that are out in the hallway. I sometimes like to stop and look at the different sayings on some of them, as some times, I find the things printed on them somewhat amusing, while others are a good commentary on life. A while back, I remember seeing one that read “It’s all about me” in large letters. I’ve even seen some people wearing such a t-shirt. Another t-shirt that I have seen that could go along with it reads “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” When you think about it, our 21st century American lifestyle really revolves around these two t-shirts, doesn’t it? We’re exposed to this line of thinking all over the place, on TV, in the movies, in advertising. We’re told we’re at the center of our own universe. Whatever you want, you can have. In fact, anyone who would tell you that the world does not revolve around your wants and desires would be deemed to be politically incorrect.
So into this world of “me first” we hear these words of Jesus in our Gospel reading for today: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those are hard words to hear this morning, aren’t they? They are words that are often misunderstood, misinterpreted. Yet, they are words that often lead many into despair. Why did Jesus speak them? What is Jesus trying to tell us here? That’s what we’re going to spend our time discussing this morning.
Our reading for this morning picks up where last Sunday’s left off. You’ll remember that a rich young man approached Jesus, and asked Him “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked the young man if he had kept the commandments, and listed some of them, and when the young man indicated “All of these I have kept from my youth”, Jesus replied “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come follow me.” This was too much for the young man, as we heard that “disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
It’s right after this young man walks away from Jesus that our reading for today picks up. The disciples had seen this take place. No doubt, they had to have been thinking “now this is a real prospect here! He’s young, he’s sincerely interested in following Jesus. Jesus has to accept this guy! People will follow if this guy comes on board!” Then, as the young man answers Jesus’ questions about the commandments, perhaps with a sense of pride “Yes, Jesus, I have kept all your commandments. I’ve never cheated on my wife, or been dishonest in my business deals, or dishonored my parents” they have got to be thinking “See, this guy has it all together! Jesus has to take him!” But then, the mood changes when Jesus asks this wealthy young man to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor.
This is shocking for more than one reason. You see, in Jesus’ day, Jews believed that if someone was blessed with great material wealth, it was an indication of God’s favor, or blessing, upon that individual. That they must be a really good person, since God is blessing them so much. So when Jesus asks this young man to sell all he has and give his money away to inherit eternal life, it goes against their very belief system. It’s not the “politically correct” answer. Not only that, but when the young man walks away from Jesus, we don’t see Jesus change His teaching to suit this young man who seemed, at least on the surface, to be a perfect disciple.
Remember, last week, we talked a little bit about the reason that Jesus did this. He wanted to strip this young man of any reliance on himself for salvation because if left to himself, the young man would never be able to earn eternal life. Jesus wants to reinforce this, which is where our reading for today picks up. Still in shock that Jesus lets this man walk away, Jesus looks around at the disciples, and says “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Remember, the disciples think that wealth and prestige is a symbol of God’s blessing. According to their system, this is completely foreign. So Jesus says again “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” This is quite a word picture here. A camel would have been the largest land animal known to people in Jesus’ day while the eye of a needle would have been the smallest opening they would have known. It’s quite an exaggeration, but Jesus wants to drive home a point. That’s why the disciples respond with the question “Then who can be saved?”