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Do you own your possessions or do they own you?

Well since the dictionary definition of ‘possession’ is ‘the state of having, owning or controlling something’, you would rather hope that you owned them and not the other way around!

When the man, who rushed up to Jesus and knelt before him on the road and asked him ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’, received the answer from Jesus ‘go and sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor’ he had a rather sudden awakening to reality. His possessions had taken ownership of him.He couldn’t give them all up, even to gain the thing that he thought he most longed for.

A really tough moment.And yet we have the reassurance that before delivering this body blow to the man, Jesus loved him.It was an act of love to send the man away to reflect on what was really, truly important to him.Jesus knew that the man had become enslaved to his wealth, to the point that it was coming between him and God.

As bystanders to this passage we too feel the shock of Jesus’ words.We too ask ourselves the question ‘do we need to sell everything and give it all to the poor in order to inherit eternal life?’

Jesus offers the witnesses to this conversation a parable to help them.The trouble is, their confusion and ours continues!

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.In other words, impossible!

There are a number of thoughts about this saying;

The Persians had a saying for something that was impossible, that it would be ‘easier for an elephant to pass through the eye of a needle’, so some say this is a version of that saying.

Other suggest that there was a night gate in the walls of Jerusalem called the ‘eye of the needle gate’ that a camel could only pass through if it first knelt down and unloaded all of its luggage.There is no particular evidence for this theory but it gives us a not unhelpful image.

Jesus clearly says to the shocked disciples, ‘it is impossible for people to be good enough to be saved’ but, he says, but nothing is impossible for God.It is impossible for people in their own strength, by their own efforts, but never impossible for God.

When the man first came before Jesus, he really thought he was on track, doing enough to enter the kingdom of heaven

Jesus says to him, ‘impossible, you can never do enough’, and then in love he helps him to understand what he needs to amend.What needs to change in his life, not because his wealth is wrong but because his wealth is coming between him and God.

And when Peter tries to say ‘look at all we have done’ surely we have done enough?’

Jesus responds by saying ‘and all of that will be rewarded. But’, - ‘But those who start with less will be recognised first, those who have more will have a tougher time on the day of reckoning’.

For the man of wealth who stopped Jesus on the road it was his wealth that was getting in the way but Jesus takes the opportunity to remind us all that we are none of us perfect and we all need help to understand what comes between us and God.And we will need God’s help to be liberated, set free from what binds us.

And sometimes the understanding we need can only come when, like the overloaded camel at the narrow gate, we let go of those things we hold most dear and stand naked before our saviour.

If you have ever moved house, especially if you have been in the same place for many years, you will know how challenging it is to ‘de-clutter’ ‘downsize’.And how good it feels when we do so.How much better it is when we take something we no longer use and find a new home for it, where it will be used and appreciated.Generosity is life-giving.God gives us all that we need not so we can hang onto it but so that we in turn can share and enrich the lives of others.

Questions:

  • If you met Jesus on the road and asked him ‘what do I need to do to inherit eternal life?’ what would he want to say to you?
  • What would be the thing you would find it hardest to give up?
  • What would it be like to live with the liberty of knowing that that precious thing belonged not to you but to God?