Rich People Entering the Kingdom

Why does Jesus say that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God?

First of all, let’s dispense with the idea that there is some way to explain away Jesus’ statement in Matt. 19:23-24. The excuses that say the “eye of a needle” was a gate in Jerusalem, and other such historical/grammatical claptrap, are just an effort to explain away another saying of Jesus that runs against the grain of our culture.

Second of all, let’s focus on who Jesus is as the union of the Trinity and humanity. In Jesus the selfless, sharing life of the Trinity has entered into permanent relationship with humanity and humanity has been adopted into the selfless, sharing life of the Trinity (Eph. 1:5.)

So, rich and poor, all of us are one new humanity in Christ (Eph. 2:15).

When Jesus says “enter the Kingdom” he doesn’t mean “get yourselves adopted as children of the Father and make atonement for your sins.” Jesus himself is humanity’s adoption and the atonement for our sins. We don’t make ourselves into children of the Father, Jesus has made us all forgiven children of the Father (Rom 5:18, Col. 1:20).

Entering the Kingdom means thinking and acting like who we really are: the children of the Father in Jesus.

To enter the Kingdom is stop believing that you aren’t a child of the Father, included in Jesus, and to begin believing that you are included. To enter the Kingdom is to stop living a life of selfishness and isolation and begin to live in harmony with the selfless sharing of the Trinitarian Life in which Jesus has included you.

And that’s where it gets tough for us when we are rich.

Money gives us the power to isolate ourselves from people and community. Money gives us the power to live according to our own desires without having to let the selflessness of the Holy Spirit flow through us in relationship with others. In short, money gives us the power to perpetuate the self-delusion that we are little gods who are not included in the Triune Life and do not need the communion that the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit share with each other and with the whole creation.

Here are a few examples:

  • A rich person who doesn’t like sharing a public beach with crowds of people can buy his own beach (or island), just for him and his fellow rich people. He doesn’t have to learn to share his life with his community.
  • A rich person can move from relationship to relationship, dating, marrying, and divorcing, as he wants to because he can afford all the costs that come with serial polygamy. He doesn’t have to learn to live in committed relationship even when it isn’t going well.
  • A rich person who doesn’t like sharing a flight with a hundred other passengers can rent or buy a private jet. He doesn’t have to learn to reduce his impact on the environment by sharing transportation.

And these examples just focus on our lifestyle in North America, Europe, and Australia. In comparison to the world at large even those we call “poor” in North America are actually “rich.” For example, if I rewrote the last statement in the context of the whole world I might say:

  • A rich person who doesn’t like sharing a ride with a hundred other bus passengers can buy his own car. He doesn’t have to learn to reduce his impact on the environment by sharing transportation.

So, money gives us the power to withdraw from community, control relationships to our own selfish ends, and use more than our fair share of natural resources. Therefore the more money we have (the more rich we are) the more we are able to live isolated, selfish lives.

When you think about it that way, we are all “rich” to some extent. No matter the size of our bank accounts we have all used money to control others, isolate ourselves, and make ourselves into little gods in our own little worlds.

And that’s the problem: the Kingdom of (God) the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not a place where persons live in an isolated, selfish way.

The disciples realized that we are all “rich” in some ways and they asked Jesus “who then can be saved?” And Jesus took that moment to remind them that we are not saving ourselves, the Father is saving us, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 19:25-26.)

Because the Trinity is saving us when we could not save ourselves, we rich people will one day find ourselves in a new heaven and new earth where we can’t buy isolation, control, and power. And Jesus says that will be hard for us. Notice, Jesus doesn’t say we rich people can’t enter the Kingdom, he just says it will be hard. It will be hard because we will have to be purged of our selfishness and our unwillingness to live in relationship and community with the Trinity and with humanity.

It’s not that we rich people won’t enter the Kingdom, it’s that our entrance will be hard.

Like a camel being dragged through the eye of the needle we will enter the Kingdom of God braying, neighing, twisting, and contorting. That’s how much our Father loves us! He’s going to have his children with him forever even if we have to come to him the hard way, kicking and spitting like camels.

~ Jonathan Stepp

2 comments so far

  1. Paul Kurts on

    I hear what you are saying in this post. However, we must not paint all rich persons with this same brush of self sufficency and personal self trust and refusal to love in community and who live in selfishness. I can think of MANY wealthy individuals who have philanthropic hearts, givers to all types of charities, and servants of humanity. For example, Carnagie, J.C. Penny, Conrad Hilton( a fine Christian man) and others who have funded hospitals, colleges, charitable institutions and the like and who have done their best to serve humanity. I agree that those who are rich and who TRUST in their riches fit into the category you have described here. I just think it is a mistake to paint ALL of the rich with the same brush. There will be some rich and independently wealthy individuals who read this blog who will take exception to it as it relates to their personal situation.

    blesings,
    Paul

  2. Pastor Jonathan on

    Thanks for the comments, Paul. I think what’s striking to me about this saying of Jesus is that he doesn’t qualify his words. Having just told the rich young man to sell everything he owns and give it to the poor he then says that it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom. He doesn’t say that if a man with 100 million dollars gives away 50 million (and keeps 50 million) that it then becomes easier for that rich man to enter the Kingdom. In the context of his conversation with the rich young man Jesus seems to be saying that wealth, in and of itself, is a problem. It seems to me that Jesus is saying that our fallenness causes us to trust in our wealth in spite of our intentions not to and therefore our material wealth is always, to one degree or another, a hindrance to our entrance into the Kingdom.


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