Truly I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.
This statement of Jesus is found in Matthew, telling of the story of the "rich young man." This narrative is also found in chapter 10 of Mark's gospel and chapter 18 of Luke's gospel. The incident must have made a large impression on the disciples, and indeed continues to make an impression on all of us who read or hear it. Unfortunately, often times an unwarranted conclusion is drawn from this text that rich people are less likely to be in heaven. A closer reading of the text reveals this conclusion to be largely incorrect.
The rich young man kneels before Jesus and asks a very key question, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" The problem exists right there at the start: the rich young man clearly believes eternal life depends on him doing something to earn it. Here he is, speaking to the One who takes away sin so all of us can have eternal life as a gift -- a grace from God -- and he asks what he can do to earn it. Throughout the gospels Jesus consistently destroys this type of thinking. We are dead in trespass and sin. All people are. Dead men can do nothing. Rich young man, all rich people, all poor people, everyone needs to come to this realization. We have sinned and fallen short of the perfection God requires for eternal life. Jesus tells the rich young man, "If you would be perfect, go sell all you have and give it to the poor..." Only someone incredibly blessed by God could come to the conclusion that he or she may be close to the perfection demanded by God. A poor person, one who has suffered, one who has been abused, one seeking revenge or holding a grudge -- in other words, most of us -- would never even consider we are close to salvation on our own. So Jesus says only with great difficulty can a rich person, a person already greatly blessed by God, attain eternal life, because eternal life has nothing to do with temporal blessings. Jesus goes so far as to say "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
The disciples are flabbergasted by this, responding "Who then can be saved?" At this time, even they believe there must be something special about the ones following Jesus, that they are doing that one thing necessary to earn salvation. They are purely flummoxed that those who seem to have the inside track in the earthly realm are not necessarily on their sure way to heaven, and indeed may find it more difficult to get there. "Who then can be saved?" is the cry of all who see the road to salvation in good works. Jesus completely slams this door in our faces.
We do not get to heaven by being good or even by giving away all we have. We get to heaven because Jesus is the lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world! Yes, even prostitutes and tax collectors who believe in this Way will enter heaven before any who trust in their good deeds, or even any who would give away all that they have.
God makes no distinction. As Paul says, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) , and "for God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all" (Romans 11:32). It is indeed impossible for man -- even a young rich one -- to save himself, but all things are possible with God.
So let go of all that hinders. Whether it be wealth or the lack thereof; health or the lack thereof; good deeds or the lack thereof; prayers or the lack thereof; tithes or the lack thereof; pious meditation or the lack thereof; any and everything or the lack thereof; simply trust, believe, take it on faith, that Jesus has covered all your sin. When God looks at you, He sees His Son, Jesus. That is the blood-dipped robe we all wear (Revelation 7:14 ). With Him all things are possible, even saving an old sinner like you or me.
Remember Whose you are,