Jesus has left the area in Judea beyond the Jordan. We are not told where He and His disciples are. There doesn’t appear to be a great crowd with them either. I’m wondering if this encounter happened on the road between two destinations.
First off, Matthew doesn’t tell us the man is rich until he is leaving Jesus’ company. Is that because the man didn’t appear rich when he met up with Jesus? Did he dress down to meet Jesus? Did he hide his wealth any time he went out in public? Or did he come with all the trappings and Matthew simply didn’t mention them?
As a rich man, did he come with a haughty attitude of being able to buy his way into Heaven? Was he earnestly seeking? He apparently thought he had done all the right things so far. He was looking for that one last “good deed” that he needed to accomplish in order to secure his future. This to me says that he knew in his heart something was lacking. No matter how hard he tried so far, he knew it was not enough.
When he asks Jesus what good deed he needs to do, Jesus asks him why he thinks Jesus Himself would know what is good. Jesus said, “There is only one Who is good” (verse 17). This gave the man the chance to acknowledge Who Jesus really is. I wonder if there was a pause in Jesus’ words for the man to answer this question.
The man didn’t respond so Jesus told him that to “enter life” he had to keep the commandments. I find it interesting though, that when Jesus told him to keep the commandments, he said, “Which ones?” (verse 18 ESV). Did he realize he was deficient in some of them and was hoping Jesus wouldn’t be including those as the requirement?
When Jesus answered his question He didn’t list any of the commandments having to do with the man’s relationship with God. Jesus knew he was completely lacking in this area, because He knew the man’s heart intimately. Money was his god. But Jesus didn’t call him out on it. He also didn’t even question the man’s assertion that he kept all the other commandments. The man claimed he had kept the commandments regarding murder, adultery, theft, bearing false witness, honoring his parents, and loving his neighbor as himself.
Even after taking inventory of his good deeds with Jesus, he still knew something was lacking. “What do I still lack?” (verse 20). Now, he is ready to hear the truth. Jesus doesn’t come right out and tell him that his money is his god or even that he is deceiving himself, but he plants the seed for him to discover it within himself. Jesus says, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me” (verse 21).
“If you would be perfect” says to me that Jesus just burst his bubble. The man thought he was perfect, except for the one missing good deed. He believed he had followed at least the listed commandments perfectly. But even here with the earthly relationship commandments, I’m certain there were times when he failed. Did Jesus’ first words bring any of those times back to him? When he told Jesus he had kept them all, did he get a knot in the pit of his stomach, like I do when I tell a lie?
By the time Jesus got to “sell all you have and give to the poor”, the man was beside himself. In my bible translation it doesn’t say to give all that he had to the poor. Jesus is not leaving him destitute, but is rearranging his priorities. If he were to do this he would also be helping his “neighbor” like he told Jesus he was already doing.
Our man also didn’t listen to the next portion of Jesus’ words; “and you will have treasure in heaven.” Did he not hear this promise because he was still reeling over the previous phrase? Did he not value treasure in Heaven? Did he value treasure on earth as more desirable? Apparently Jesus’ promise here meant nothing to him.
AFTER he does all these things, Jesus says he is ready to come back and follow Him. If he can actually do these things, he has had a true heart change and is ready to receive true life from Jesus. If he can’t then money still remains his god and he has no part in eternal life.
At this point in our story, the man is not yet ready for this kind of commitment to God. The bible says that, “After he heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (verse 22). I don’t know if he went home and thought more about what Jesus required of him or not. My heart wishes he did. Could he possibly be Joseph of Arimathea, who asked for Jesus’ body and buried Him in his own tomb?
This man who thought he was so rich was actually incredibly poor. All he had could buy him nothing in God’s Kingdom. He would have no Heavenly treasure until he realized that Earthly treasure is worthless, unless it is placed in the hands of God. Only then can any lasting good come from it.
After our visitor left Jesus talks with His disciples about the real issue. Jesus tells them that “Only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of Heaven” (verse 23). He doesn’t say it is impossible. He likens it to a camel going through the “eye of a needle.” Now if we were talking sewing needles, it would be impossible, without some kind of miracle. In fact Jesus said that it was only possible with God’s help.
Many scholars say that Jesus was talking about the “eye of the needle gate” in His statement. The eye of the needle was a gate that, after the main gate was closed at night, visitors would have to pass through. It was a much smaller gate and was constructed to ensure access to the city at night was carefully monitored. If someone coming in had a camel bearing goods, the camel had to be completely unloaded and crawl through the opening. I assume this was to prevent merchandise being smuggled in or out during the night when fewer people were around as witnesses.
This was how the rich would enter Heaven. They would have to be stripped down to just their own selves; devoid of anything they sought to protect themselves with or they deemed of value. They would be able to bring nothing to bargain their way into Heaven with. Their worldly goods are worthless to God. The thing of true value to God is the heart of the individual. That is all He is looking for.
We all have to come to Him that way. Nothing we think we bring to God, besides our hearts, is of any value to Him. He made it all in the first place. He can, and most often does, use what we bring Him AFTER He has our heart. Whatever it is, once we surrender it to Him, HE can make great things happen with it.
Father God, thank You for the talents You placed in me. Thank You more though for accepting my heart. I seriously doubt I will ever be a rich person, but if somehow You let it happen, I trust that You will guard my heart through it all and remind me always to keep You first. I know I mess this up even while I am poor, so I don’t hold much hope out of You trusting me with riches that would distract too. Thank You for knowing my weaknesses and not leading me into temptation. Thank You that You made a way for each of us to enter Your Kingdom. I know for a fact I would never get there on my own. I will not even pretend I have followed all Your commandments; not even just the earthly ones. You made it possible for me, in spite of my “good deeds” quotient. My acceptance of Your one good deed is all that is required.