The rich young man who comes to Jesus to ask for guidance is one of the best known figures in the New Testament. And his encounter with Our Lord produced one of the more startling images in the Scriptures – a camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle. Familiar and striking thought the tale may be, it is all too easy in focusing on the eye of the needle to miss the point!
Perhaps the most important words to heed in the story are the response of the disciples, “who, then, can be saved?” It is all too easy to say the message of the encounter is that wealth is bad, or rich people are bad, or Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates are really in trouble. But the disciples certainly weren’t rich, and yet (for once) they got the point – the warning applied to them, just as much as the rich young man.
People without money, after all, can spend just as much time obsessing over it as the rich. “If only I had money, everything would be easy.” “If only I won Lotto, all my troubles would be over.” This is the real danger of wealth. Many of the things we might like to do with money may well be good. But the ability to do them can give us the very dangerous misconception that we are in control. Riches can insulate us from some things, so that we can have the illusion that we are in control of our lives. Yet, as perhaps the pandemic has shown some of us more clearly, life is very precarious. Ultimately everything rests in the hands of God.
Wealth can be one of the greatest distractions. There are many others, of course. Food, sex, entertainment, travel, and new experiences of every kind. Of course, money can buy many of them, that’s why it is dangerous. And most of them are basically good. But they are not God. We may not have the wealth to buy all of them, but all of us have one or more of them that occupy a greater part in our lives than they should. If Our Lord were to come to us and say “Give that up, and you’ll have treasure in heaven. And come follow me,” we would struggle. We might well want to walk away in sadness.
But, of course, it isn’t “if”. Jesus does come to us and say exactly that. I don’t know about you, but I find it very hard to follow that call. Thankfully there is the great message of joy from Our Lord in response to the disciples’ distress. It may be humanly impossible, but nothing is impossible for God. We are to rely on God, not on wealth, or those other things that we believe will make us happy, but that is even so of our turning from the various false gods we have made for ourselves, and especially in our finding forgiveness for our reliance on false gods in the past. We rely on the power of God, and what we cannot do, he will do by his power. And we will have treasure in heaven.
Fr Chris Denham