Jesus in his words to the rich man is promoting the fact that wealth is to be shared. None of us has a right to anything. Everything we have is a gift, given by a God who provides for us generously but also makes us responsible for looking after each other.
Sometimes you hear of people doing the most impossible and strangest things, often for no reason whatsoever, although certainly in the UK getting into the Guinness Book of records is many people’s aim. Here are a few examples that probably didn’t get into the Guinness book of records but are none the less strange.
In 2003 an Indian man swallowed 200 earthworms each measuring at least 10 cm long in 30 seconds. This same man can also put small live cobras into his mouth, passing them out through his nose. Here in the UK a man ate a 3 course meal in 45 seconds in 1999. The meal consisted of 500ml of oxtail soup, 454g (1 lb) of mashed potatoes, 227g (½ lb) of tinned baked beans and sausage, and 50 prunes! A shearer in NSW sheared a sheep is 45.41 seconds. A group of students played Snakes and Ladders for 108 hours. And then there was the man who played the piano for 45 days and 11 hours, and the barber who shaved 130 men in an hour with a cut throat razor. A politician gave a speech that lasted 6 hours and 43 minutes, but that is nothing compared to the preacher whose sermon lasted for 48 hours and 18 minutes. So be pleased that my sermon is only at the most 10 mins long this morning!
And then there was the camel that tried to go through the eye of a needle – and failed. And on his second try, his third try, his fourth try – he failed again – because camels don’t go through eyes of needles. It’s an impossible task. It can’t be done. So we heard in todays NT reading how a rich young man had just come to Jesus with a question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come, follow me.” We are told that the young man went away sad because he was very rich.
Jesus turned to his disciples. “How hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the Kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eyes of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” But let us be clear from the beginning that Jesus isn’t against having wealth, or owning lots of things, or striving to own a house or a car. What he is saying is that being blessed with lots of material possessions can be a trap. It’s a trap to own things and to want to possess things in such a way that they get in the way of striving for a life that is focussed on the kingdom of God.
So in much the same way as humps, long necks, and flat hairy feet get in the way of a camel trying to get through the eye of a needle. The camel was the largest animal people knew in Jesus time. There were no elephants and no knowledge of dinosaurs – only humpy camels. Not only were they big, but they were also the grumpiest and needed a far bit of coaxing to do anything, let alone squeeze through a tiny opening. Trapped – that’s how the camel felt as he meditated on the situation with only one whisker halfway through the needle. Trapped because he was so bulky and big – he had such a huge frame and couldn’t get rid of it.
Trapped – that’s how the rich young man felt as he sat outside the door of the Kingdom of heaven. Gradually the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for more things to come, adds to our bulk so that the door of heaven is dwarfed. There are so many things hanging on to us that it is impossible to fit through the narrow door into the Kingdom of God. That doorway is just big enough for us to fit through let alone all kinds of additional baggage that would hinder our progress.
The point needs to be made that Jesus isn’t just talking about millionaires and the big business people who have loads of money and spend big on business deals and leisure. He is talking to ordinary people like you and me. The words are for us to listen to as well as the rich man in the story, for there are times when we are in danger of being so focussed on the good things of this world that we lose sight of what is truly important.
The young man in the story had everything. He was well to do, he had a good income, he had food on his table every night, in fact he could afford to dine out whenever it pleased him, he was well clothed, he had a holiday house overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and the latest designer chariot. He had everything. Well almost everything. “One thing you lack. Said Jesus Go sell everything you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.” And the young man couldn’t do it. He was trapped by all the things which he had surrounded himself in life. And he went away sad.
It perhaps seems as though this whole teaching goes against the grain especially in 21st century. Doesn’t the world judge a person as successful when he/she has a big house, or flash car or successful career? Aren’t people judged by the way they dress, the way they run their business, and by their popularity and fame? When the world talks about security it talks about the comfortable lifestyle a person has and his/her ability to win friends and influence people because of their successes.
It’s so easy to become fearful that if we don’t put material things first in our lives than we will somehow be disadvantaged. I’m not saying that material possessions are wrong but Jesus is getting us thinking about what our true priorities are. And when we misuse the gifts God has given us and regard them as more important than the Creator – then they become a curse. A beautiful house is good, having money is good, but when these become all consuming they squeeze God out and we can become very inward looking and only focussed on the little world around us.
Whether we are rich or poor, we are constantly in danger of filling our hearts with everything else except God. In Victorian times many of the rich land owners not only ran businesses, but helped their employees with housing. Well into the 20 century some big companies provided leisure and other activities for their employees. However, as the years have gone by this particular sharing of wealth by companies is not so prevalent, okay some of the profits might be handed out in a share or two or a discount, but nothing like it was over a century ago, when employees felt cared for and valued.
Today it is far more common for there to be a company takeover, or as in recent times the a big high street store goes into liquidation and thousands of jobs are lost. We occasionally hear of a rich and wealthy person supporting a charity, not only giving money to support it but also actually physically being involved. These people whether Christians or not are setting a good example to others and are in almost all cases passionate about the cause they are involved in, which should strike a chord in us. Although you may say they have the funds, time and support to do such things, and get the publicity, not like us.
In our small way could do so much more especially when we are comparatively so comfortable compared to so many of those around us. I know that you are generous by giving food to the food bank or helping them with regular monetary donations. Thank you. I hope you will support the backpack project.
Jesus in his words to the rich man is promoting the fact that wealth is to be shared. None of us has a right to anything. Everything we have is a gift, given by a God who provides for us generously but also makes us responsible for looking after each other. May we all find pleasure in our daily receiving and giving. As we work to provide for others, may we remember to thank God who has given us bodies and minds able to contribute to the common good. As we receive from others and thank them, may we also remember to thank God from whom all things come.