Daily Office Readings – Gospel ( Matthew 19:23-30 )
Yesterday’s Gospel reading dealt with a rich young man who wanted to know what he needed to do in order to receive eternal life. When Jesus told the young man that he needed to sell all his possessions and follow him, the young man went away sad, because he was rich. This story then leads into today’s gospel reading, which has Jesus telling his disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
We like to focus on the money aspect of this passage, because, after all, Jesus said that we had to give away all of our money and follow him. One of the things that I found weird about this passage, though, was that in the ancient world most wealthy people would have gotten and retained their wealth by oppressing the poor and the weak, or by collecting taxes, or lending money; all of these things would have made them unwelcome almost everywhere. So rather than being surprised that rich people couldn’t get into heaven, the disciples really should have said, “Oh yeah, that makes sense. Rich people are oppressive and evil.”
But instead they are surprised, and wonder who can get into heaven.
Just like today, most people wanted to live a life where they had enough to eat, a means to clothe themselves, and shelter. And just like most of us today, they would have wanted more, because we all want more, it’s in our nature, because wealth has a way of making us feel secure. It has a way of making us feel confident. It has a way of making us feel like we can rely on ourselves when all hell breaks loose in our lives.
It isn’t the wealth or the money that Jesus is worried about, but rather this delusion of our self-reliance. Instead of becoming like little children (Matthew 18:3) who look in faith to their Father for help in difficult times, we look to ourselves and what we know and what we possess to help ourselves in times of struggle. We solve issues by throwing our resources at them, rather than possibly learning that we shouldn’t “solve” an issue, but instead, let it go altogether.
This is the root of the disciples’ confusion. If even people of means, people who could shape their reality to their own liking, would have difficulty getting into heaven, then what are we to do?
Again and again we see Jesus trying to push the disciples into the idea of trusting in God to provide, to teach, to give wisdom in every situation. Earlier in Matthew (chapter 10), Jesus had sent the disciples out and told them not to take anything with them, but to travel with nothing, and that they should give freely of what little they had with them. All of this is done with the assurance that “with God, all things are possible” (v. 26). This should have reminded them of the five thousand hungry people that Jesus asked them to feed, and when they were confused by how that was to happen, Jesus took some loaves and fish and provided more than was needed.
Yushi Nomura took the sayings of the Desert Fathers and put together a book with drawings, called “Desert Wisdom.” One of the stories there has always stuck with me, because it so clearly defines this idea of being like little children, relying on our Father, rather than on our own devices:
Abba Doulos, the disciple of Abba Bessarion, said: When we were walking along the sea one day, I was thirsty, so I said to Abba Bessarion, Abba, I am very thirsty. The old man prayed, and said to me, Drink from the sea. The water was sweet when I drank it. And I poured it into a flask so that I would not be thirsty later. Seeing this, the old man asked me, Why are you doing that? I answered, Excuse me, but it’s so that I won’t be thirsty later on. Then the old man said, God is here, and God is everywhere.Desert Wisdom, Sayings From the Desert Fathers, p 74, [italics mine]