18 One of the leaders asked him, “Good rabbi, what should I do to obtain eternal life?” 19 Yeshua said to him, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good but God! 20 You know the commandments — ‘Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t give false testimony, honor your father and mother, . . .’”21 He replied, “I have kept all these since I was a boy.” 22 On hearing this Yeshua said to him, “There is one thing you still lack. Sell whatever you have, distribute the proceeds to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come, follow me!” 23 But when the man heard this, he became very sad, because he was very rich.
24 Yeshua looked at him and said, “How hard it is for people with wealth to enter the Kingdom of God! 25 It’s easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God!” 26 Those who heard this asked, “Then who can be saved?” 27 He said, “What is impossible humanly is possible with God.”
28 Kefa said, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 Yeshua answered them, “Yes! I tell you that everyone who has left house, wife, brothers, parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 will receive many times as much in the present age, and in the age to come, eternal life.”
Luke continues his use of material from Mark chapter ten.
in this case, Luke makes use of most of Mark’s language, just tidying up a little. He changes Mark’s description of the questioner as a young man to “one of the leaders” because he wants to identify him as part of the religious establishment; and he crucially omits Mark’s assertion that Jesus felt love for the man. This detail makes Mark’s much the more subtle story, in that he shows the man rejecting Jesus’ love as well as his advice.
Jesus did not invent the concept of eternal life; it comes from the religious culture of first century Jewish faith, which divided time into the “present (evil) age” marked by injustice suffering and death, and the “age to come” marked justice, joy and indestructible life. This is the “life of the aeons” usually translated “eternal life”. Some Jewish people believed that those who lived rightly would be granted a share in eternal life. Others did not believe in any life after death at all. The questioner is testing Jesus’ stance on this matter. But he prefaces his question by giving Jesus the title “good teacher” perhaps the sort of greeting which the religious leaders liked. Jesus is severe, refusing to accept that he is good. Only God deserves that honour. This is an implicit criticism of all religious titles including the one which I use by custom, “Reverend.” Then Jesus hits the question straight back to the questioner, reminding him of the Ten Commandments.
When the leader says honestly that he has kept them since he was young, Jesus accepts his honesty, but advises him shrewdly that he is still not the full shilling in righteousness. Doubtless the man expected another commandment. Instead he got invited to convert his wealth into money that he could give to the poor, and to follow Jesus as a disciple. This was shrewd because although the man was a decent sort, he imagined that what mattered was his possession of goodness, which in his view, and the view of religious leaders, included the wealth with which God had blessed him.
Jesus invited the man to respond directly to God’s goodness, offering himself as the man’s teacher in the shared life of discipleship. The commandments help a person to stand in a place where he/she can grow, but the person has to be willing to grow. The tree planted by the waterside still has to draw nourishment from the soil.
This man was unwilling to grow because he wanted to keep his possessions. Luke alters Mark’s wording to produce the explanatory sentence,”he was very sad because he was very rich.” There is no aggression on either side in this encounter. The questioner respects Jesus who in turn respects him and offers him the discipleship that will guarantee him life in the age to come. The result is sadness, the questioner’s sadness to be sure, but also Jesus’ regret at the man’s enslavement.
This regret leads to Jesus’ joke about the camel, which might squeeze through the needle’s eye if it wasn’t for its hump. A decent rich man might also squeeze through if it wasn’t for the wealth on his back. His disciples are appalled because they have been taught to regard wealth as God’s blessing on a righteous life. Moreover, the rich were not exposed to the same pressures as the poor and could more easily keep the Torah, as the rich man had just shown. Jesus admits that the salvation of rich people is unlikely but not impossible for God’s goodness to accomplish.
This frank speaking leads Kefa (Peter) to remind Jesus on behalf of the disciples of the sacrifices they have made for him. Family members and businesses have been abandoned in order to be with Jesus. Jesus promises them two rewards: now, in this age they will enjoy the life of the new family of God’s children, in which disciples will be family to each other and share their possessions; and in the age to come, they will have indestructible life. Luke is the historian of the first communities of Jesus Messiah in his Acts of the Apostles, and is at pains to present their enjoyment of a shared life, where no one lacked anything. Eternal life is not described in Luke’s gospel, because it is the blessing which God has promised to all people through Abraham, described by Jesus in John’s gospel as “life more abundant.”, a description which is particularly appropriate to this story. In contrast to worldly wealth God does not offer deprivation, but more abundant life.
This story sums up with forensic exactness Luke’s evidence about Jesus’ attitude to wealth. He had no hatred of wealthy people but saw their possessions as a potential enslavement which might deprive them of the blessings of common life in this world and of the splendid life of the world to come. All my experience of wealthy people has confirmed Jesus’ wisdom.