Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Can Rich People Go to Heaven?

The Bible shows snippets of so many lives, sometimes it’s easy to pass over them thinking “oh, that’s nice, people meeting Jesus.” But as rich Westerners, there are some encounters that should really catch our attention. One that has always stuck with me (with some worry) is the story of the rich man who wanted to be a part of the Kingdom of God (Matt 19:16, Mark 10:17). But he isn’t the only rich man mentioned by far, there are many others, some Jesus commended, and others he rebuked. Zacchaeus (Luke 19) is an interesting one though, because in all ways, the opposite of ‘the rich man,’ except that they were both wealthy, and both went out one day interested to see Jesus.
          Looking first at the story of the rich man, we see he comes right up to Jesus, confident, wanting to hear what more he could possibly do to make himself good enough to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He boasts proudly that he has kept the commandments. But Jesus gently catches him, he sees immediately that the man has not kept the first and most important commandment, to have no other Gods. This man, upon hearing that the only way to get eternal life was through giving up every worldly possession to follow Christ, just left sadly. He was undone. He left knowing he had the choice of which master to serve. He came to Jesus assuming he had it almost all together, but that meant there was no room for Jesus, so Christ asked the man to make room. As far as we know, he did not.
          Now, unlike this “righteous” wealthy man, Zacchaeus (let’s maybe just call him Zac), came to Jesus a swindler; a thief; a sneaky little dude. He wanted to see Jesus, but instead of coming to him head on, he climbed a tree and waited. When Jesus saw Zac; truly saw him and loved him as he was, something changed in Zac’s heart. Maybe it was two sizes two small before but it grew! He came to Jesus with no such offers of a life that followed the rules, all he could do was take the offer of new life and change. He told Jesus that he was going to do something immediately , to give back what he had taken and much more. He held nothing back, because now he had something far more valuable. He found a God more important than money or good works. His emptiness had been filled.
          I think when Jesus talks about how hard it was for a rich man to Get into the Kingdom of God, in many ways he was talking about someone who thought they were already good, rich in themselves. This man had everything he could want, and desired nothing. Zacchaeus, came having all the same earthly possessions, but knew he had nothing to speak of integrity-wise, he was so far away from a good person, he desperately needed a savior, he was poor. We are called to live knowing we are wretched poor and needy without the grace of the cross. As soon as we lose focus on that, and begin to see ourselves as “pretty darn righteous” we may no longer be opening space to let God give to us.

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