Luke 18 – Alligator Sailboat, Dollar Sign Eyes

Luke 18 Bible with Green and Blacks Organic Milk Chocolate with Almonds
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Today’s PassageLuke 18

Like the chapter before it, Luke 18 has a lot of stuff happening. There are parables about unjust judges and self-assured Pharisees, there are children and rich men coming to Jesus, there are teachings about sacrifice and predictions of crucifixion, and there’s a blind man who gets his sight back. A single post would only afford me space for a cursory glance at each portion of the text if I attempted to cover it all, so we’re going to zero in on our friend the rich young ruler.

The rich young ruler (18-27), a wealthy man who asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life and finds the requirements too steep, is a common topic in sermons and Sunday school lessons alike. I learned about him at an early age, and out of familiarity, I skimmed over his story on my first read here. It was only when I gave it a second pass later on that I noticed Jesus’ debriefing with his disciples following the event.

Jesus’ words after his encounter with the rich young ruler are likely familiar as well. He states, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! For 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.” (24-25). I’ve heard folks try to explain away the comparison to soften its sharp edges, but Jesus literally says that a rich man will have a harder time getting into God’s kingdom than a camel will have getting through a three-millimeter-by-one-millimeter hole. There’s no getting around that. And if we take his claim seriously, we must conclude it is easier to violate physical law and do something impossible than to get a wealthy person into heaven.

Of course, then Jesus notes that God, in his omnipotence, is perfectly capable of threading needles with camels. “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God” (27), he tells his disciples. Who can be saved? Even a rich man, if God saves him.

But that’s not how we view the rich in America. We venerate them, extol their industriousness, and aspire to reach their level. In a complete inversion of Jesus’ teaching, we view money as a barometer of virtue. Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler suggests that if the rich were truly involved in advancing the kingdom of God, they wouldn’t be so rich. They would have already given their wealth to those who need it rather than keeping it for themselves! Of course, they needn’t divest themselves of every cent. Just one example is the cloth merchant Lydia, who was likely quite successful selling purple fabrics to the noble classes, but she opens up her resources to other Christians (Acts 16:14-15, 40). In the hierarchy of virtues, generosity trumps aggressive acquisition, and you can’t be generous and still be filthy rich.

I feel that I can’t overemphasize how much we worship the wealthy in contemporary America. It’s almost unimaginable to me that a person from our culture would say, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” Jesus’ words are too much at odds with what many of us are already saying.

 

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