What does your preacher preach on more often than anything else? I used to think that only Baptist preachers talked about money every week, but I’m beginning to think that I preach on being rich more than anything else. Why? Because Jesus keeps talking about it. It’s hard to preach on something else when Jesus is always talking about money.
It’s Thanksgiving Week, and I’m writing each day about being thankful. The gospel lesson in today’s Daily Office is Matthew 19:23-30. That’s the passage in which Jesus declares, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Lately, I’ve been accused by my congregation of “beating up on rich people,” which I take to include myself and I take to be a compliment. So, instead of doing that and talking about squeezing our fat wallets through heaven’s narrow gate, I want to talk about the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ statement.
Matthew tells us, “When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’” As I read the lesson this morning, I thought to myself—THAT’S where thanksgiving happens. Let me explain…
In congregations like ours, I think that there are two basic responses to Jesus’ “it’s hard for rich people to enter the kingdom” talk. Either we 1) shrug our shoulders and assume Jesus is talking about someone else or 2) we wring our hands and wonder what we’re going to have to do to get in. In other words, some of us assume that this gospel lesson doesn’t apply to us, while the rest of us take it to heart, and I think that’s where the message of thanksgiving comes in. We can’t be grateful for something we don’t acknowledge to be ours.
The disciples aren’t really rich by the world’s standards. As Peter says a little later on, they have given up just about everything to follow Jesus. Jesus talking to them about rich people entering heaven is like me going down to the Salvation Army shelter and preaching about giving up everything you’ve got and giving it to the poor. Yet still the disciples’ response is astonishment and humility. “Then who, Jesus, is going to be saved?” Amazing.
How easy it would have been to say, “Gosh, Jesus, I’d hate to be rich! Glad you’re not talking about me!” How tempting it would have been to say, “Ha! You said it, Jesus. About time they got what they deserve!” Instead, the disciples recognize that Jesus is talking about them—about all of us. We are all rich. How, then, will any of us be saved? With mortals it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
And so thanksgiving. Thank you, gracious God, for making me rich in so many ways and for loving me anyway. Don’t take it for granted—either the riches or the surprising salvation that comes despite them. Be a disciple. Be astounded at the sharpness of Jesus’ words and recognize that they’re said to you. Thanksgiving can’t happen until we admit what we should be thankful for.