From time to time, I wonder what the rest of the world must think of the United States as they watch our television. As members of a community gather together for a little social time around the one and only television in the community and watch the satellite feed, what do they think? What do they think of houses with more than one room? What do they think of a woman who can't decide what to wear while their entire wardrobe consists of the clothing they have on at the time? What do they think of people trying to decide where they will have lunch while they wonder if they will have lunch? Even the poorest of the poor in the United States would be judged wealthy by citizens in many other nations of the world. That is why the words of Jesus in today's Gospel should terrify every American. Jesus said, "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."
Jesus words are even more startling when we study the role of wealthy people in first century Israel. There is a special reverence that most westerners hold for people who take a voluntary vow of poverty in order to serve others. We admire the doctor who gives up the wealthy practice in the suburbs in order to minister to the poor in the inner city. We admire the person who leaves a good job in the United States in order to feed the poor in some third world country. Most of us admire the work Mother Theresa did among the poor in India. We in the church have heard the words of Jesus concerning wealth so often that we have gotten used to the idea that the poor have a special place in God's heart. This was not so in first century Israel.
While Biblical culture certainly frowned on people who amassed wealth illegally, those who achieved wealth through diligence and hard work were considered to be the favored of God. The honored places in heaven were reserved for people who obtained wealth in legal ways and used it to support the church and the community. The disciples would have thought that the honest rich are the most likely to enter heaven for they are the favored ones of God.
Thus the teachings of Jesus that compare the poor and the wealthy were very startling for the people in that day. Jesus must have given the disciples a headache when He pointed to the widow's mite and said, [Luke 21:3-4] "Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."
We can see the confusion of the disciples in their response to Jesus in today's Gospel. They said to him, "Then who can be saved?" If the odds of the rich are the same as the odds of that camel, then who can get into the Kingdom of God? If the honest rich can't get in, then none of us have a chance.
None of us have a chance. That is the message of the law in today's Gospel. The teaching in today's Gospel is not that it is bad to be rich, but that no one is able to enter the Kingdom of God with their own resources. When Jesus said that the most respected members of the culture could not earn their way into God's Kingdom, He was saying that none of us rich or poor can earn a place in God's Kingdom. All of us are as likely to enter God's Kingdom as a camel is likely to pass through the eye of a needle.
The Holy Spirit inspired David to write, [Psalm 51:5] Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Paul writes, [Romans 5:12] Death spread to all men because all sinned. Paul listed a few of those sins in Galatians and then concluded, [Galatians 5:21] I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. All of these verses reveal our sinful nature to us. We are sinners from conception and the only thing that happens as we grow and mature is that our sins get more imaginative and destructive. With man it is truly impossible to inherit the Kingdom of God.
While it may be impossible with man, it is possible with God. [Jesus] said, "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God." God is almighty and He loves us dearly. He loves us so much [John 3:16-17] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. We do not have the resources to enter the Kingdom of God, but the Kingdom of God has what it takes to enter us. We do not pray for us to come to God's Kingdom. Instead we pray to our Father in Heaven saying, "Thy Kingdom come."
The Kingdom of God comes to us in the God-man, Christ Jesus. In Jesus Christ, God took on a human nature and humbled Himself to live with us under the law. In His humility, He kept the law for us. He even humbled Himself to death on the cross. His death, the death of a perfect, holy, and innocent man, did for us what it is impossible for us to do for ourselves. He made it possible for the Kingdom of God to be in us and for us to be in the Kingdom of God.
The Holy Spirit provides the finishing touches for God's work in us. He makes the impossible, possible. The Holy Spirit gives us God's Word. The Holy Spirit gives us that Word in many ways. We read it ourselves in our private time with God. We share it among ourselves as we meet with our brothers and sisters in Christ to learn and study it. We hear it read in Divine Service and we also taste it as Christ gives us His true Body and Blood in with and under the bread and wine of the Holy meal. The Holy Spirit generously uses all these ways to feed our spirits with God's Word. Through that Word, He creates and sustains faith in us. He gives us the faith that believes that the suffering and death of Jesus Christ takes away all our sins. Through that faith the camel passes through the needle's eye - that is, the rich and the poor alike enter the Kingdom of God.
Today's Gospel follows last week's Gospel. Last week, we heard how a rich young ruler went away sorrowful because gold was his god. This week, Jesus used the difficulty that this young man had to teach us that none of us, rich or poor can enter the Kingdom of God on our own. Instead, the Kingdom of God comes to us because nothing is impossible with God. Whether we are rich or poor, the Holy Spirit's gift of faith in the work of Jesus Christ puts the Kingdom of God in us and us in the Kingdom of God. Amen.
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