I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire. Beyond health and comeliness I loved her, and I chose to have her rather than the light, because the splendor of her never yields to sleep. Yet all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands.(P) The word of the Lord.
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart. Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants! (R)
Fill us at daybreak with your kindness, that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days. Make us glad, for the days when you afflicted us, for the years when we saw evil. (R)
Let your work be seen by your servants and your glory by their children; and may the gracious care of the Lord our God be ours; prosper the work of our hands! Prosper the work of our hands! (R)
Brothers and sisters: Indeed the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.(P) The word of the Lord.
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother." He replied and said to him, "Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God." Peter began to say to him, "We have given up everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Today, we read one of the most fascinating stories found in all three synoptic gospels - Mark (10:17-30), Matthew (19:16-30) and Luke 18:18-30). From the narratives, we learn that the man who approached Jesus was a rich young ruler, and he had a great disposition. He "ran" up to Jesus and "knelt" before Him and then greeted Him "Good Teacher". The young man's words and gestures show his respect for Jesus as well as his earnestness and eagerness to meet Jesus. Many times, the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes came to Jesus to test Him by asking Him questions regarding their religious beliefs, practices and laws. Others came to Jesus out of desperation for healing of their sicknesses and disabilities.
This man, however, had come to Jesus for something more important and valuable to his life. He believed in eternal life and wanted to obtain it - an unusual goal for someone of his age, position and status. But Jesus poured cold water on his enthusiasm by saying: "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone", Mark (10:18). It is worth noting here that, Jesus neither denied that He is good nor that He is God. Rather, He was getting the man to think about what "good" really means. Since God alone is good, then what we normally call human goodness might be something else entirely.
Calling Jesus good teacher, the young man wanted to know the requirements to "inherit" eternal life. "Eternal life" means to live with God in joy, peace, and happiness here and now on earth and after death. Saint Paul says that it is a gift of God that comes only "through Jesus Christ our Lord", Romans (6:23). In reply, Jesus exhorted the man to keep the Ten Commandments and then, He Himself listed six of them - "You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. You shall not defraud. Honour your father and your mother", Mark (10:19). All these commandments govern his relationship with other people. In response, the young man quickly and joyfully told Jesus that he had been keeping all of these commandments since he was a child. The man was obviously good, religious and sincere in his pursuit of his righteousness by loving his neighbours.
However, he probably considered himself to be faultless, while Jesus was exhorting them to "be perfect, as the Heavenly Father is perfect", to live up to God's holiness or God's perfect standard, Matthew (5:48). This was a part of the reason, perhaps, why Jesus looked at him with love and said that he was lacking only one thing. Looking into the man's heart, Jesus knew that the one thing that the young man lacked was the full giving up of his heart to God. And therefore, He told him to "go and sell all his possessions, and give it to the poor and come and follow Him". Besides, He assured him that he would have "treasure in heaven". Jesus rarely told people to give away everything, but in this case He did.
Upon hearing Jesus' demand, the man turned his back on Jesus and walked away sad for he had great possessions. This young man's wealth was an obstacle, the idol that prevented him from following Jesus. He was too attached to his wealth and possessions; He loved himself and his material things more than God and others. And Jesus knew that. By not loving God with his whole heart or above all other things, the man was breaking the four commandments that deal with his relationship with God - "You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall make no idols. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. And keep the Sabbath day holy", Exodus (20:1-11).
After the man had left, Jesus turned to his disciples and said that it is quite hard for those who have riches to enter into the kingdom of God. The disciples were naturally surprised at Jesus' words. Because wealth was seen as proof of God's approval and, the Jews commonly believed that the more prosperous a man was the more certain he was of his entry into God's kingdom. To make it clearer what He meant, Jesus gave a picture of a large thing, a camel, and a very small thing, the eye of a needle. He said, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter heaven", Mark (10:25).
There are a few possible explanations for what Jesus meant by His analogy using a "camel" and "eye of a needle". Some maintain that in Jesus' time there existed somewhere in Jerusalem's city wall a narrow pass or gate. After dark, when the main gates were shut for security reasons, travellers or merchants would have to use a smaller gate, through which the camel could only enter after stripping off any saddles or packs or crawling through on its knees. Others contend that there is a misprint in the Greek text of the Bible. The Greek word kamelos, meaning "camel" should really be kamilos, meaning "cable" or "rope".
Some others claim that Jesus adapted a Persian saying, "It is harder for an elephant to enter a needle" to Jewish context as camel was the largest animal in Palestine during His time. Yet some others say that Jesus was indeed talking about an actual "sewing needle" and a real "camel". They suggest that Jesus used the hyperbolic speech concerning the impossibility of real camel passing through a real eye of a needle, just as He spoke of cutting off one's foot or hand to enter into heaven.
Whatever the explanation, each of these explanations assume that a camel is able to get through the eye of a needle but it is impossible for a rich man to enter heaven. Shocked by Jesus' words, the disciples were whispering among themselves, "Then who can be saved?". In other words, they began to wonder if the rich among them, which included the Jews who strictly observed all religious rites, ceremonies, and rituals, were unable to enter heaven, then what hope is there for ordinary and poor people. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said to them, "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God", Mark (10:27). That is to say, it is impossible for man to save himself by his own merits, or for the law to grant eternal life, but it is possible for God. In other words, God has the power to save all sinners and give them eternal life. In fact, God can take all the things that are impossible to man, and make them possible.
The Bible gives us many examples of God doing so - making the possibly impossible possible. For example, when Abraham and Sarah were awaiting the promise of a son, even after they were well past childbearing years, God told them, "Is there anything too difficult for the Lord?", Genesis (18:14). When the Israelites were complaining to Moses about food, the Lord told Moses that He was going to feed over 600,000 people for an entire month and Moses was sceptical. But God said, "Is the Lord's power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not", Numbers (11:23). And then, in foretelling the birth of Jesus, the angel Gabriel told Mary, "For nothing is impossible with God", Luke (1:37).
Peter then wanted to know what reward would be given to people like him who have given up everything to follow Jesus. In response, Jesus assured Peter and others that for everything they give up, they will receive far more - in this life and, even more significantly, eternal life. At the same time, Jesus reminded them that there would be also a cost - "persecutions".
What is the message for us?
Through this gospel story we learn that we cannot earn our salvation through our good works nor by our own effort or merit. Nonetheless, just because we are not saved by works, this does not mean we do not need to do any work. In fact, we do not obey the Law or do good works in order to be saved but because we are saved to obey the Law or do good works. What we must bear in mind is that though we do our best to obey God's commandments, this is not sufficient to save us. After all we can do, we are only saved by grace, through faith. Because, no matter how good we are, we can never measure up to God's perfect holiness.
We all, somehow, recognize and acknowledge that God's laws are wonderful and that obedience to them brings us freedom, well-being, clear conscience, joy, happiness and peace, Psalm (119); Proverbs (29:18). And we try to live by them, too. However, deep down, we know that we can never be worthy of God's grace and we all are painfully aware of our own frailties. We do realize that we fail to keep the commandments flawlessly and perfectly. Just as the rich young man in the story, we fall short of God's holy standard. As no good deeds can undo the sin in our lives, we need a Saviour who can forgive our sins and take away the punishment of death that we deserve, and offer us eternal life.
We cannot have eternal life and heaven unless we experience God's forgiveness. Therefore, rich or poor, we are all sinners and in need of God's mercy, forgiveness, grace to receive His free gift of eternal life offered through His Son Jesus Christ. And so, while we diligently, faithfully and joyfully carry out all God's commands, let us always choose to humble ourselves before God and admit that we are sinners and we need His help.
True Christians or followers of Christ are called to love God most, above all other things and all other people, including friends and family, Exodus (20:3); Matthew (10:37); Luke (14:26). That is, we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength, Deuteronomy (6:5); Mark (12:29-30). We are not to allow any other love to interfere with loving God. Our hearts should be one, undivided in our allegiance and love for Him. As Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters", we cannot serve God and money, Mathew (6:24).
While Jesus' command to love God wholly may seem unfair and even selfish from God's side, it is actually something good and nothing less than fair. True relationship with God can offer much more than any earthly relationship. We can find much more, love and trust and intimacy with God than even with our family members and friends. Moreover, God loved us more than His only Son, so He sacrificed His Son for us, who died on the cross in our stead, John (3:16). Hence, it is only fair and right that we return His love in the same measure. It does not mean that we must die or sacrifice anybody but rather love God more than our family and friends.
It is also important to note that loving God more than anyone else does not mean we are loving others less. It is quite the opposite. God is the source of all love. Our true love for God can only enhance our other relationships. By loving God, we are compelled to love others as well, which includes family, neighbours and friends. But that does not change the priority.
If there is anything in your life blocking the way to a deep relationship with God; if there is anything or anyone that you love more than God; if you trust any person more than you trust God; if you spend more time thinking about the material things and pleasures than about God; then, today is an opportune time to "put away all covetousness, which is idolatry", Colossians (3-5), and to ask God to change your heart, Psalm (51:10); Deuteronomy (30:6) and increase your faith, Luke (17:5); Mark (9:24). We cannot change by ourselves the condition of our heart. But God can. Through the Prophet Ezekiel, God promises to do so if we will ask Him. He says, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances", Ezekiel (36:26-27).(P) Amen.
God Bless You!