This time we get an example of someone who trusted in his own righteousness. Jesus had just said, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it,” (v. 17) and then this rich, upper-crust guy comes up and says, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 18) Weren’t you listening, guy? Jesus also calls him out for saying, “Good Teacher”, which the ruler was just using to try to flatter Jesus, perhaps in order to get a good answer.
Despite this, Jesus answers his question. He lists five of the Ten Commandments, and the ruler says he has kept them since he was a boy. So, Jesus tells him there’s just one more thing: give away all of your stuff, and then follow Jesus. As the man liked being rich and having a lot of things, this made him very sad. So Jesus points out how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, more difficult than getting a camel through the eye of a needle.
I have heard that some people try to say that Jesus is referring to a well-known pass or gate that was very narrow, so rich merchants trying to bring heavily-laden camels through it would scrape the sides and generally needed to go around a longer way. And supposedly such a place was called the Eye of a Needle. Such people are entirely missing the point of the saying, and if it were true, it makes the following verses make no sense.
The people who were there had the common, mistaken notion that material blessing equates to spiritual blessing. If you were rich, the theory goes, then God had blessed you with wealth and would continue to bless you after you died and bring you into His kingdom. The people also knew you can’t fit a camel into a needle’s eye, so they wondered if the rich aren’t getting in, what hope do the rest of us have? Jesus replies, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (v. 27) So if “eye of a needle” refers to a narrow place, why would Jesus assert that it is impossible for men to get into God’s kingdom? Remember the lesson of the children, and of the Pharisee and tax collector. We can’t bring ourselves to God’s kingdom. He has to invite us in, of His own initiative and power. Nothing we have or don’t have can help.
Peter pipes up and points out that a bunch of them did leave a lot behind in order to follow Jesus, as He asked the ruler to do. It sounds like he’s implying the question, “So, does that mean we’re in the kingdom, like You said?” Jesus’s answer tells us that God rewards those who sacrifice in order to advance His kingdom. Which is not the same as sacrificing in order to get blessings, including eternal life. Check your motivations and priorities.
Let us love You above all our possessions.