17As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
|Through the eye of a needle by Juan Ramón Martos on flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.|
We’ve been praying the same prayer of confession for a month now, at the beginning of our service. But last Sunday, one line hit me like a lightning bolt: “we confess that we have not allowed your grace to set us free. We fear that we are not good enough.”
If I had to sum up all of my spiritual struggles throughout my lifetime, it is the fear that I’m not good enough. And that’s a fear I’ve experienced on two fronts: that I’m not good enough for God, and that I’m not good enough in comparison to other people.
The rich young man we encounter in today’s Gospel knew no such fears. He was the gold standard of good enough. He kept all of the commandments since youth. You could say he was born good enough. His was a life of power, privilege, and prestige.
It’s hard to say what exactly was on his mind when he approached Jesus—whether he wanted a stamp of approval from “the good teacher” or if he truly felt something important was lacking in him… Either way, he asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. He loved him. “But you lack one thing,” he said. “Go, sell what you own, give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
Here’s a man who was always “good enough.” And yet, Jesus does not tell him to give away his wealth in order to become “good enough.”
Why would he want to do that? His wealth with a sign he was in God’s favor! It gave him the freedom to have whatever he wanted, and do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. His wealth was security—if trouble found him, he could buy his way out. If the whole world turned against him, he’d still have his riches and his wealth to keep him company. He could buy his way into people’s affection. He could buy their approval.
Would you love to be just like the rich young man? Don’t you want the same good things he has: a good name, a good reputation, and a good life? Wouldn’t be great to have wealth to give you power, control, security, and esteem?
The rich man has done good. Everything he has is good. He even calls Jesus good. Problem is, his whole conception of “good” is flawed. His mind is set, his heart is set, and his life is set in all the wrong things.
Jesus says, “no one is good but God alone.” His lifetime of good works cannot gain him eternal life. Even worse, God’s goodness has no place in his life. He’s never had to depend on God’s goodness for anything. And now, Jesus is telling him to give away everything that made his life good. That would’ve been more unimaginable than dying.
He was captive to his good name and all his good stuff. You could say these things were possessing him. God’s goodness could not possibly live through him. He refused to let Jesus take him through the eye of the needle, to discover his identity, his security, his strength, his destiny—in God’s goodness.
Fact is, in Christ no human being must worry about being “good enough.” In Christ, the question of “good enough” is settled. Jesus is the only “good enough” you’ll ever need. God’s righteousness is expressed in Jesus Christ giving his life away for sinners and doing for you what you cannot do for yourself.
I doubt anyone here could claim to be fully like the rich man. We’ve made mistakes. We’re all rich and poor in our own ways. We all want the power, control, security, and esteem we think money can buy us. We want life to be good. We want to be good and we want to do good. The question for you is, from whom or what will that good come?
If Jesus looked you in the eye and told you to give everything up, what would be the hardest things to lose? Keeping the old smartphone instead of upgrading to the new one? A staycation instead of a vacation? Eating leftovers instead of going out? Watching the big game on TV instead of in the stadium? Missing out on all the stuff your friends are doing?
And I wouldn’t suggest emptying yourself of everything in one fell swoop, but rather to stop and consider the things you fear most to give up.
Let Jesus take you through the eye of the needle. Let go of the things you cling to in order to be a good enough person— so that God‘s goodness lives through you. Go through the eye of the needle to where God is the source of all things good.
You may look at these things and wonder how you can live without them—and you’ll not want to let them go. But it’s Jesus love, that won’t let you go, that will make going through the eye of the needle as liberation and release. With God, all things are possible. The good you receive—and the good you give—because God is good—will outweigh anything you will have given up.
Jesus is the end of your questioning, Am I good enough to be saved? Am I good enough when people say otherwise? Will I make it through these tough times? Will my life be good? Jesus has the answer to all those questions: God is good. God’s is the only goodness you will ever need.