9 November 2016

Matthew 19:23-26

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.’” (v. 23)

Psalm: Psalm 44:1-8


As Jesus travels to Jerusalem to die, a rich young man has just been challenged about how he uses his possessions (Matthew 19:16-22). Jesus uses the opportunity to teach his disciples about the danger of wealth.

The word we translate as 'kingdom' - 'basilea' - actually means "sovereignty' or 'power'. In the United Kingdom a similar turn of speech is used when the power of the State is spoken of as 'the Crown'; in the United States, this power is described as 'the People'. This is helpful to get to the nub of the issue here. It is not a place that the rich person finds it hard to enter (or even a mythical gate into Jerusalem too small for camels to enter) but a sovereign rule. The issue that Jesus is discussing is what power someone submits to. When he says that a rich person finds it hard to enter the 'sovereignty of heaven' he implies that they are under someothersovereignty. In other words, do they submit to the power of God's will, or to the power of riches? (In the parallel passage in the Gospel of Mark's version of these events - Mark 10:24 - some Bible manuscripts have Jesus speaking about 'those who trust in riches'). Ordinarily we might assume that someone who has riches has power. Billionaires seem to be able to do what they want without fear of reproach! Yet it seems that Jesus turns the concept around: it is not the rich who have the power to use wealth for their own ends, but the wealth that exercises power over the rich. They are trapped by their own money!

The disciples ask who can be saved (verse 25). After all, popular Jewish belief at the time saw wealth as a sign of God's blessing. (Some people today might view it in the same way). How could it be that the rich were not blessed by God after all? They don't understand what Jesus is saying!

In verse 26, when Jesus says all things are possible for God (echoing the words which accompanied the promise of children to Abraham (Genesis 18:14) and Elizabeth (Luke 1:37)) he is not saying that God can make it possible for the rich to keep their wealth and enter the sovereignty of God. Rather, he is saying that God can make it possible for the rich to renounce the power that wealth has over them - even the wealth itself - in order for them to enter God's sovereignty.

To Ponder

  • How much are the rich and famous in today's world trapped by their wealth and fame? How much more freedom do unknown people of average income actually have to choose to go and do as they please? Is it easier to serve God without being rich and famous? Why or why not?
  • Wealth is a relative concept. Would you see yourself as rich? Who might disagree with you?
  • How has the desire to maintain your standard of living restricted your ability to offer yourself to God? How has wealth exercised power over you? What else might you have submitted to rather than God's sovereignty?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Neil Cockling

Neil spent 20 years as a circuit minister before becoming the District Development Enabler for the Newcastle upon Tyne Methodist District. He now works full-time for the NHS as a Consultant Lead Chaplain in mental health, leading a multi-faith team of 14 chaplains working in 10 hospitals in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.