THE PERIL OF RICHES
Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, “With what difficulty will those who have money enter into the Kingdom of God!” His disciples were amazed at his words. Jesus repeated, “Children, how difficult it is for those who trust in money to enter into the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” They were exceedingly astonished. “Who then,” they said to him, “can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God.”
The ruler who had refused the challenge of Jesus had walked sorrowfully away, and, no doubt the eyes of Jesus and the company of the apostles followed him until his figure receded into the distance. Then Jesus turned and looked round his own men. “How very difficult it is,” he said, “for a man who has money to enter into the Kingdom of God.” The word used for money is chremata (GSN5536), which is defined by Aristotle as, “All those things of which the value is measured by coinage.”
We may perhaps wonder why this saying so astonished the disciples. Twice their amazement is stressed. The reason for their amazement was that Jesus was turning accepted Jewish standards completely upside down. Popular Jewish morality was simple. It believed that prosperity was the sign of a good man. If a man was rich, God must have honoured and blessed him. Wealth was proof of excellence of character and of favour with God. The Psalmist sums it up, “I have been young and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging bread.” (Ps.37:25.)
No wonder the disciples were surprised! They would have argued that the more prosperous a man was the more certain he was of entry into the Kingdom. So Jesus repeated his saying in a slightly different way to make clearer what he meant. “How difficult it is,” he said, “for those who have put their trust in riches to enter the Kingdom.”
No one ever saw the dangers of prosperity and of material things more clearly than Jesus did. What are these dangers?
(i) Material possessions tend to fix a man’s heart to this world. He has so large a stake in it, he has so great an interest in it, that it is difficult for him to think beyond it, and it is specially difficult for him to contemplate leaving it. Dr. Johnson was once shown round a famous castle and its lovely grounds. After he had seen it all, he turned to his friends and said, “These are the things that make it difficult to die.” The danger of possessions is that they fix a man’s thoughts and interests to this world.
(ii) If a man’s main interest is in material possessions it tends to make him think of everything in terms of price. A hill shepherd’s wife wrote a most interesting letter to a newspaper. Her children had been brought up in the loneliness of the hills. They were simple and unsophisticated. Then her husband got a position in a town and the children were introduced to the town. They changed very considerably–and they changed for the worse. The last paragraph of her letter read–“Which is preferable for a child’s upbringing–a lack of worldliness, but with better manners and sincere and simple thoughts, or worldliness and its present-day habit of knowing the price of everything and the true value of nothing?”
If a man’s main interest is in material things, he will think in terms, of price and not in terms of value. He will think in terms of what money can get. And he may well forget that there are values in this world far beyond money, that there are things which have no price, and that there are precious things that money cannot buy. It is fatal when a man begins to think that everything worth having has a money price.
(iii) Jesus would have said that the possession of material things is two things.
(a) It is an acid test of a man. For a hundred men who can stand adversity only one can stand prosperity. Prosperity can so very easily make a man arrogant, proud, self-satisfied, worldly. It takes a really big and good man to bear it worthily.
(b) It is a responsibility. A man will always be judged by two standards how he got his possessions and how he uses them. The more he has, the greater the responsibility that rests upon him. Will he use what he has selfishly or generously? Will he use it as if he had undisputed possession of it, or remembering that he holds it in stewardship from God.
The reaction of the disciples was that, if what Jesus was saying was true, to be saved at all was well-nigh impossible. Then Jesus stated the whole doctrine of salvation in a nutshell. “If,” he said, “salvation depended on a man’s own efforts it would be impossible for anyone. But salvation is the gift of God and all things are possible to him.” The man who trusts in himself and in his possessions can never be saved. The man who trusts in the saving power and the redeeming love of God can enter freely into salvation. This is the thought that Jesus stated. This is the thought that Paul wrote in letter after letter. And this is the thought which is still for us the very foundation of the Christian faith.
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