“Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
All of us 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 sometimes, I’m amused of the things printed on them, while others seem to be a good commentary on life. A while back, I remember seeing one that read “It’s all about me” in large letters. I actually saw someone wearing it in the mall. Another t-shirt 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 tells you that the world doesn’t revolve around your wants and desires would be considered 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, 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 evening/morning.
Our reading for this evening/morning picks up after 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. No doubt, they’d to have think “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 had 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.
Jesus wanted to strip this young man of any dependance on himself for salvation because if left to himself, he would never be able to earn eternal life. This 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 thought that wealth was a symbol of God’s blessing. This is completely foreign to them. So, Jesus says, 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?
Hard words to hear, aren’t they? They fly right in the face of our modern beliefs of “it’s all about me.” With the rich young man, Jesus made it clear that there was nothing he could do on his own to enter the kingdom of God. If a rich man has no chance, then what about the rest of us?
But this also opens up an opportunity to show you one way people abuse this passage. Sometimes, people believe that wealth in and of itself is evil, and look at this passage as a “proof text” that you have to give up your worldly goods and that those who are wealthy have no chance with God. However, that’s not the case. Let’s look back at the rich young man. The sin that he’s guilty of isn’t that he’s rich. Riches in and of themselves are not evil, or sinful. The problem with the rich young man was that he had turned them into his god. They were most important. He wasn’t willing to give them up for eternal life.
And so, it is with us and our “it’s all about me” attitude. When we put the focus on ourselves, on what we’re doing, we’re guilty of the same thing. If we put our trust in climbing the corporate ladder, having a position of authority in the church or community, or in anything that we own, we have just broken the first commandment and made that our god. For folks who have a lot of money or material things in this life, who live by the idea “the one who dies with the most toys wins”, the temptation is for them to trust in their stuff rather than in the God who created and has given you the stuff in the first place.
But even if you give up everything you have, there’s the temptation to take pride in your act of giving it up. In our text, Peter shows a hint of that when he says; see, we have left everything and followed you. It’s as if Peter is saying, but Jesus, we’ve given up everything we had, we gave up lives, money, security, families, to follow you. Doesn’t that count for something? Jesus even cuts that idea off. It’s filled with sinful pride, its work righteousness.
But this warning about trusting in worldly riches isn’t just for the wealthy. The poor are also vulnerable to this sin too. You see, those who are lacking in worldly goods will often look at those who have more and be tempted to covet those things their neighbor has. They might put all of their time and energy into getting more stuff. And in doing that, their pursuit of that or their coveting stuff might lead them to forget about the good gifts God has given to them and fall into the sin of trusting in material things to make their lives better.
Indeed, if left on our own, and our “it’s all about me” mindset, we’d have no hope. There’s no hope in that because if we go with the t-shirt slogans “It’s all about me” and “He who dies with the most toys wins”, we realize that whatever accomplishments or stuff we have in this world, there will come a day when we will lose it. I have never officiated at a funeral where the procession to the cemetery has a U-Haul truck behind the hearse, with the deceased’s material things in it. They’re left to someone else, you don’t get to “take it with you.” In the end your “stuff,” the things in this world that we value, can’t keep you alive. If we are left on our own, and our “it’s all about me” attitudes, we, like the rich young man, would walk away from our Savior disheartened, because we were unable to buy or earn our salvation. Indeed, it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Whether that person be rich with material things, family, friends, happiness, anything in this world that they trust more than they trust in God.
That’s why Jesus responds to the objection of “who then can be saved” by saying “with man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” God knew that because we are infected with sin, that we are sinful from birth, sinful from the time our mother conceived us. There’s one person who can pay the enormous debt of our sin. It’s Jesus. If there was ever anyone who knew what riches were, it was Him, being God in human flesh. He was there at the creation of the world. He created everything in it. We, in our sinfulness aren’t able to completely give up our worldly riches, at least without complaint, Jesus willingly gave up the splendors of heaven, and submitted to the limits of a human body. While in this world, He wasn’t wealthy by any worldly measure, He was born of humble parents, grew up a carpenter’s son, and during His public ministry, relied on the generosity of others to meet His physical needs.
In a world that believes “he who dies with the most toys wins”, it would appear that at the cross, Jesus lost. The clothes on his back were gambled away. He died with nothing. But, He allowed Himself to become nothing so that we could be something. At the cross, Jesus takes all those times where we put ourselves, our selfish desires, our “stuff” of this world ahead of others, and dies for those sins, He dies for all of our sins of thought, word, and deed. And then, Jesus takes that gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation He won at the cross, and gives it to us. Free. No strings attached. When it comes to forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, it’s not all about you, it’s all about Christ!
That’s the good news that we have for our world today. There’s a way to heaven! There’s a way to eternal life! And it’s all because of Christ. What is happening here this evening/morning reminds us of that fact. We started our service this morning by confessing our sins of thought, word, and deed, and heard that our Savior has indeed died for all of our sins, and we’re forgiven children of God. Through the scripture readings and the sermon, we again hear of what our Savior has to say to us, reminding us again “It’s not about you. It’s not about your emotions. It’s not about your feelings. It’s all about me, and what I have done at the cross for you.”
That’s why we reject any notion to put ourselves, our emotions, our piety, and our possessions ahead of what Christ has done for us. We put ourselves in spiritual danger when we get our priorities mixed up, and start making church, the place where Christ comes to us through the means of Word and Sacrament, to give us the free gifts of forgiveness of our sins, eternal life, and salvation, and try to turn it into something that puts the attention on ourselves instead of Christ, when we try to cater to our emotions, or feelings, our desires, our ideas on what will work. When that happens, we’re right back to trying to enter the Kingdom of God as a camel is trying to pass through the eye of a needle. It’s not possible when it’s all about us. But, when it’s all about Christ, all things are possible.
As we go about our work this week, and as we go about our ministry as a congregation, let us repent of the times where we have tried to follow the world’s cry of “It’s all about me.” Instead, let us center everything we do on Christ. Let our motto be “It’s all about Christ, it’s all about what Christ has done for me, and is doing for me today.” Thanks be to God that indeed, when it comes to salvation, it’s not all about me, but it’s all about Christ. Amen.