As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.” He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” Peter began to say to him, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecution, and eternal life in the age to come.”
In ancient Judaism, the question of life after death was hotly debated. Even today, there is no universally accepted answer to the question among Jews. As such, the Jews of Jesus’ time, and that would include His disciples, understood that those whom God favored would be rewarded in this life. In fact, riches, land, a large family, good health, and prestige among one’s neighbors were all understood as signs that one had received God’s favor. Read the Book of Job for a sense of this. It is clear that Job’s wealth and large family are the result of God’s favor, and it is assumed by his inquisitors that his loss of everything is the result of his having somehow offended God, even as Job denies this.
We can better understand, then, the astonishment of Jesus’ disciples when He tells them how hard it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. It would be like saying a genuinely holy person, one who has dedicated him or herself to God and the service of others, who typifies a life of prayer and sanctity (in my mind, Benedict XVI is such a person), has a one in a million chance of getting heaven. The disciples are genuinely shocked. They must be thinking, “Well, if this person has such a small chance of entering the kingdom — this person who we know as one dedicated to God and favored by God — if it is so difficult for them to go to heaven, what chance to I have?” It makes perfect sense, then, that the disciples would ask Jesus, “Lord, then who can be saved?”
Jesus’ answer is true for all of us, rich, poor, young, old, Jew, Gentile, even those dedicated to God and those who want nothing to do with God: “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” Who can be saved? Those who embrace the grace of God for salvation, no matter their background or status. We are saved by grace, nothing more, nothing less. God offers His grace to all for the sake of our salvation, and it is up to us to freely embrace that grace. God extends His grace, and we embrace His grace. God desires that we unite ourselves to Him, and we say, “Yes!”
We cannot save ourselves. If we could save ourselves then Christ lived, died, and rose needlessly. We had turned from God by choosing sin. Christ, the sinless one, offered Himself as the sacrifice of God for the sake of our salvation, living a life in perfect obedience to the will of the Father, even to the cross. This is the work of God in Christ.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.