Just as Jesus was setting out on his journey again, a man ran up, knelt before him and asked, “Good Master, what must I do to have eternal life?”
Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: Do not kill; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not cheat; honor your father and mother.” The man replied, “I have obeyed all these commandments since my childhood.”
Then Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him; and he said, “For you, one thing is lacking. Go, sell what you have, and give the money to the poor; and you will have riches in heaven. Then, come, and follow me.” On hearing these words, his face fell and he went away sorrowful, for he was a man of great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were shocked at these words, but Jesus insisted, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
They were more astonished than ever and wondered, “Who, then, can be saved?” Jesus looked steadily at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God; all things are possible with God.”
For long centuries in Israel before the time of Christ, the people were convinced that there was no blissful afterlife with God in Heaven, just a mournful and sad afterlife in the dark center of the earth, the Sheol. Consequently, since they were all convinced that God is completely just, they believed that God had to reward the good people in this life and punish the bad people in this life. The rewards of a good life were: wealth, a long and healthy life, and a large posterity.
But in today’s gospel reading Jesus is telling his disciples that wealth is not at all a sign of God’s blessing but, on the contrary, an almost insurmountable obstacle to enter God’s kingdom. Hence their reaction of utter amazement.
Why is it that wealth and heaven do not go together but are antithetically opposed? Because Heaven is essentially an undeserved gift, something that no money can buy. It requires that people receive it as beggars receive alms—and that is an attitude which is completely foreign to a man who is used to acquire whatever he wants with his money. A rich person can enter heaven only with empty hands and a grateful heart…
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