Luke 18.24-30 — Understanding the Rich Young Ruler

Today we’re in Luke 18.24-30, the discussion that follows the rich young ruler event. Jesus looked at the man and said, “Yeah, this is awfully hard for rich people.” I see two elements behind this: (1) “Rich” in the book of Luke usually symbolizes the ungodly, so Jesus is letting us know that this isn’t universalism: the godless ain’t gettin’ in, and (2) Luke is concerned about socio-economic justice, and the rich who won’t share their resources with the poor just aren’t pleasing God.
Then he gives his famous saying: “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” A saying like this is a proverb, not a promise. The point is that rich people, in general (proverbially), feel self-sufficient and successful, don’t see their need for God, and don’t use their wealth in godly ways. It’s not to say that if you’re rich, too bad—no heaven for you!
The disciples are still flummoxed, though. It seems like they assumed good circumstances (wealth) was a sign of God’s blessing, and that being good (worthy of wealth) was what was required for entrance to heaven. Jesus has just sidelined that theology, and they are knocked off balance and confused. Jesus uses the opportunity to teach what he has taught before: There is nothing about salvation that is possible for us. We can’t earn, deserve it, get it by devotion, by birth, or from upbringing. There is no part of salvation within reach or our capability. All notions of salvation must be discarded for the one true way: God provides it.
Peter, the mouth, jumps right in: “We’re not like that guy who just walked away. We have left everything to follow you.” Whether Peter had understood or not, he had spoken the truth: salvation by following Jesus. On the other hand, however, he also doesn’t understand, because it sounds as if he thinks he has earned a place with Jesus, or if he deserves it.
Jesus agrees that Peter is sort of understanding: “Sacrifice” is thinking in the right direction. God is your greatest allegiance. But God is not in the business of deprivation and separation, but in blessing. If you’ve sacrificed for God, he won’t leave you hanging. There will be payback, recompense, balance, and blessing.

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