The first time I read the passage in Matthew 19:24 my heart sank. As a believer who was reading the Bible for the first time, it really bothered me. I mean, I would like to be rich. I certainly would consider it a blessing to win the lottery or hit it big with a small business or something. And yet here is Jesus himself seemingly saying that rich people cannot go to heaven. I even shared my concern with a friend who had read the New Testament five times. His take on it was that Jesus was really referring to pride, that the problem with wealth is it makes a person proud, so the passage did not mean it is impossible to be wealthy and be saved. Somehow that didn’t help me much.
Years later I heard a famous Bible expositor explain what Jesus was actually saying. One of the gates in the wall protecting Jerusalem was rather narrow and was called the eye of a needle. People could fit through it (single file), but it was difficult to squeeze a camel through. You first had to unload the camel and then you and a partner had to coax the reluctant camel’s head and neck through and then get behind him and push the rest of him. It was a tight squeeze and an unpleasant experience for the camel, but it was possible and people did do it almost every day. But it was a struggle.
This was wonderful news to me. But should it have been? I had already accepted that being rich maybe wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I had learned to place my desires on more important things, like being content with a comfortable existence and pursuing a fulfilling spiritual life. So now that it has been made known to me that getting rich is OK too, do I put that back on the agenda? You bet!
Only….. not as a high priority. Jesus told us not to attempt to store up treasures for ourselves here on earth where the moth eats, the thief breaks in and steals, the metal rusts, the frivolous lawsuit taketh away, the brilliant money manager with the long history has a bad week and loses it all, and the democrats when they get in power redistribute. Instead he told us to store treasure in heaven where none of that stuff happens and it will be eternally secure. Store up eternal spiritual treasure, not temporary material treasure.
There are plenty of other scriptures which warn against the folly of placing your trust in wealth, including:
1 Timothy 6:17-19
However there are other scriptures, especially in the book of Proverbs, that recognize wealth as a blessing from God or a just reward for hard work. Conclusion? There is nothing inherently wrong with being wealthy in and of itself. That will not keep you out of heaven any more than eating a Christmas ham will. What the Bible warns us about is the false sense of security and repelling appearance of pride that riches tend to bring upon wealthy people. That is where the trap lies. Wealth preys upon a vulnerable human character flaw and can be a dangerous thing in the wrong hands. But of course, that would not be you or me, right?
We Christians don’t have to worry too much about this really. God loves us and takes care of us and knows about all of our weaknesses. He isn’t likely to allow those of us to get rich who would turn from Him as a result – unless He has a special lesson planned, perhaps, like losing it all.
Back to the eye of a needle. In this account described in Mark 10:17-27 the person who was talking with Jesus wanted to know how to go to heaven, and Jesus had told him to keep God’s commandments. Somehow this young guy knew that wasn’t enough for him. He felt blameless in this area, but instinctively knew he was still missing something so he pressed the issue further. Jesus then told him to sell everything he owned and give the proceeds to the poor and follow him.
The guy went away depressed because he was wealthy and just could not let go of it, even as a believer who was being told what to do from the Lord. This story shows us what can happen if we do get rich. We might place too much value on our wealth instead of upon Him who gave it (and can just as easily remove it). When that trumpet sounds for the rapture, we might not want to go because our bank account is here – and that is what we have come to have faith in, more so than the Lord who blessed us so greatly.