When you follow Jesus the logic of things is often, well, missing. While reading the other day I was struck by these words of his: “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Mark 10:23.
This statement makes no sense when seen through the eyes of everyday life. Affluence is something associated with power. The wealthy have influence. A person with financial means will have access to better education, a nicer home, newer cars, etc. And yet, in these words not only is having wealth not useful, but it is also a hindrance. The one thing worth having above all else – the Kingdom of God, is hard to attain for those who have an abundance of resources. Why?
It’s interesting that Jesus never says having wealth is wrong. He says for those who are wealthy, to enter the kingdom of God is hard.
We tend to think having means reduces our needs. And of course, in the here and now, it is true. Having financial resources helps meet many of our basic needs like food or shelter, as well as our recreational ones, such as travelling. The danger is when we believe that having financial means takes care of all needs. Or that the only needs we have are those met with resources we can produce.
I was raised in a comfortable environment. I was blessed to receive a great education and did not have to worry about how it would all be covered. Somewhere along the way from youth to adulthood, not needing (help, money, etc.) became an important marker for success. Yet need is our most primal basic state before the cross. We are needy. In every way. We need salvation, discernment. We need healing. We need community. We need. Period. But, how hard indeed it is for those who have much and think it enough, to understand their need for God and His kingdom.
So hard, that Jesus then adds, “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” (Mark 10:25). I think the mindset that comes with resources is where the rubber meets the road. Whether we are rich or not, our goal is to become like a rich person. Perhaps not all of us will have the goal of amassed wealth in the form of a trust fund or overseas accounts, but in the end, we are all seeking to have enough means that lead to worry-free self-sufficiency.
Still digesting his comment about a camel going through the eye of a needle with more ease than a rich person entering the kingdom of God, the disciples grapple among themselves “Then who can be saved?”. The answer is a verse often quoted, that I did not know this was the actual conversation where it occurred:
When it comes to the Lord, there will always be this upside down/ right side up kingdom logic. I think for me it boils down to being made poor in order to be made rich in the right things. In 2014 I had a severe burnout that came crashing down with depression and a meaningful life decision to quit my job at the time and the career I’d been building for years. For the next few years, I became “poor” in the things that I thought mattered so much. I went from having a fattened bank account, so to speak, to a very slim one. I went from having a nice title in my LinkedIn profile to answering the “What do you do?” question with “I stay at home. I mentor younger women from my church. And, I write.” While thinking to myself, “all the while earning zero."
I remember the first time my husband did our taxes after I had quit my job. I felt shame. There was a big, fat ZERO where my full name appeared under the heading of “contributor.” That is exactly how I felt. And ashamed I told my husband as much; “My contribution to our household budget, there is it, ZERO!” To which he replied warmly that wasn’t true at all, and that this season was most important for my well-being. That it was God, who was supplying all our needs, like always.
Funny how it’s the kind of truth I would have said earlier in my life, but not entirely grasped or lived out. But now, at that moment, it went straight into my heart like a fresh and needed wound. Yes, a wound to my ego, to my self-sufficiency.
I want to be clear. While I was a believer back then, there was a thick layer between what I believed and how I lived it out. It impeded me from needing Him enough to delight in Him also.
Stripped of what was my go-to for security, feeling inadequate and not at all self-reliant, I turned to Jesus with new eyes. Having zero as my contribution to my household economy in that tax form provided a realistic picture of how we are vis-à-vis the cross. We bring nothing to the kingdom. We can’t. It does not need anything we complete, and has everything we need to be whole.
I am learning to appreciate becoming "impoverished" in worldly measures, to take in the wealth of the kingdom we are called to. It was God’s mercy that circumstances are helping me become poor in the things I held dear and upon which I relied for my needs; that I may see and taste the sufficiency and abundance of Christ.
Going back to where I began, remember this whole conversation is taking place between Jesus and the disciples. So why then does he say that it’s hard for a wealthy man to enter the kingdom of God, to a group of men who aren’t? If their position in life isn’t directly related to the example provided, why use that wording? I think Jesus is deliberate and intentional in these words. He meant them for a group of fishermen and middle-class men. And He says them for us, 21st-century readers.
In talking about the person who is wealthy, He is talking to the person who regardless of financial standing, thinks that having resources is the goal and answer. And he is talking to the one who while being deprived thinks if only he had wealth then he would have no needs. Essentially, He is talking to all of us.