Enlightenment not entitlement; why camels can and we cant – Tuesday, 20th week in ordinary time- Matthew 19: 23- 30

The Gospel of today seems to take off from where the rich young man left, but in reality it must be seen as one composite text.  At the heart of this text (19: 16- 30) lies the million dollar question of the rich young man. He wants to DO SOMETHING to enter into eternal life. He sought the one exclusive good work that would give him eternal life. Jesus’ answer, as we know, left him devastated for Jesus hits him where it hurts the most,”sell everything, give it to the poor and follow me”.

For the Jews, wealth was a sign of blessing from God. The mandate comes from the book of Proverbs 10:22 which says, “The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it”. Wealth was a clear sign of divine favour if one kept the commandments of the law, which the rich young man kept.

So what then is the problem? The rich young man desired salvation but he wished to ‘obtain it’. For him, salvation could be earned by doing something; that’s why he asks Jesus, “What must I do?”

For Jesus, the commandments had a vertical and horizontal dimension of love. It was not so much in the doing rather than in the being, that salvation could be obtained. Salvation is not obtained by performing a unique or special deed, nor is it a ‘claim’ made by virtue of religious appropriation. Salvation is a free gift! Here in lies the mistake of this rich young man.

The Pharisees had smugly come to believe that they would be saved by virtue that they were Jews or that they had religiously kept the law. They did things to obtain salvation; they failed to live it.  It is this foolishness that Jesus highlights by the use of an oriental exaggeration; a colourful image for an insuperable difficulty and He borrows it from a prevalent thought. The Persians also had a similar exaggeration when they spoke of an ‘elephant passing through the eye of the needle.’ The people at the time of Jesus simply picked a more familiar animal to compliment this oriental exaggeration.

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