Jesus’ attitude to money and wealth (Matthew 19: 16-22)

The rich young man

A rich young man approached Jesus and asked what he must do to receive eternal life. Jesus instructed him to follow the Ten Commandments. He mustn’t steal, commit adultery or lie – he must also honour his father and mother and love his neighbour.

The young man had done all these things since he was a child. Jesus said he must do one more thing:

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If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.
An illustration of Jesus telling the parable of the rich young man (Alexandre Bida, 1873)

The man was very rich and was unwilling to give up all of his possessions, so he “went away sorrowful”.

Here Jesus takes the opportunity to teach about wealth and the Kingdom of God. People at the time of Jesus thought that the rich were in favour with God – their money was a reward for good behaviour. But now is Jesus is telling them the opposite. This must have been very confusing for the young man and the followers of Jesus.

Jesus declared, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” He then sates that it is easier for a camel to go through “the eye of a needle” than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.

The eye of the needle could have referred to a small door in Jerusalem’s city wall. A camel would not have been able to fit through it if there were many items hanging off its sides. The possessions would have to be discarded for it to fit.

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Jesus does not mean that all rich people cannot enter the Kingdom of God. It is just those who are obsessed with their wealth and riches and who do not use them for the good of others.