A certain ruler asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. You know the commandments: Don’t commit adultery. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Honor your father and mother.” Then the ruler said, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.” When Jesus heard this, he said, “There’s one more thing. Sell everything you own and distribute the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” When he heard these words, the man became sad because he was extremely rich. When Jesus saw this, he said, “It’s very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom! It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.” Those who heard this said, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible for humans is possible for God.” Peter said, “Look, we left everything we own and followed you.” Jesus said to them, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, husband, wife, brothers, sisters, parents, or children because of God’s kingdom will receive many times more in this age and eternal life in the coming age.” Luke 18:18-30
This is one of those uncomfortable passages of scripture. At least, it is if you’re paying attention because Jesus says that doing the all the right stuff isn’t enough; you have to give up everything and follow Him. And, that everything includes your family and your wealth. Nobody likes that idea. Oh, the family part might not be so bad (who wouldn’t want to be rid of an extremely irritating brother…, or sister. It could be a sister), but selling all my stuff? That’s hard and it’s why we dance around this passage by interpreting it in ways that don’t make us feel bad for not following it. We tell ourselves that we’re not wealthy, but wealth is relative. Compared to the majority of the world, the average American lives like a king. We have a roof over our heads, food to eat and clean, fresh water to drink. Health care is a given, even if paying for it is not. Because of that, we tell ourselves the object of this story reinforces the point of Matthew 6:24 that you can’t serve both God and wealth or some other interpretation that doesn’t threaten our cozy little existence. But what if it means more? What if Jesus really meant that we are to sell everything we own and follow Him. Damn.
In both Mark and Matthew, Jesus says toward the end of the story that “…many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.” To me, that pretty throws the serving two masters interpretation out the window. Some exegesis says that “”…many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first” means that the Gentiles have just as prominent a place as the Jews in the Kingdom of God. I even found one that said Jesus meant Gentiles who believed in Him would enter the Kingdom ahead of the Jews who rejected him. The the one I like says that honor, privilege or status have no place in God’s kingdom. I like it because that ties in with what I think about this story. I know this is going to sound strange coming from a guy who has not had good things to say about interpreting the Bible literally, but what if it means exactly what it says? That those on top are going to have to give their place of privilege and those that on the bottom are going to lifted up? Considering that Jesus’ audience tended to be dirt-poor subsistence farmers and peasants and laborers, that makes a lot more sense than some crap about how you can’t serve God and money. Those people are who the material rewards of Gospel are for, the poor, the downtrodden and the oppressed. It falls to us, the wealthy, to provide those rewards. In that way, the first become last and the last become first…, and the Gospel is fulfilled.