Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"With Men It Is Impossible, but..."

We have just witnessed the wealthy young man decline the offer to sell his belongings and follow Christ along with His disciples. This fellow walked away disheartened. Having noted the profound effect on His disciples, Christ then turned His attention to them.

This account is recorded in the synoptic books of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Let us continue the episode in the narrative of Mark 10:23-27.       

"And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, 
Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is "easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." 
And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible."

We begin with a closer examination at Mark's description of the scene: Note that he narrates two glances Christ gives to His listeners, one is looking all around, and one that rests on His disciples.
Christ scans the crowd, warning to all who "trust in riches", how difficult it is to enter the Kingdom of God. This scrutinizing glance of the entire crowd signifies that He is addressing all of those who not only have wealth, but trust in it for salvation.
In other words, just as He had explained to the rich young man who could not detach himself from his possessions, neither could the wealthy buy their way into Heaven. 
This was the common Judaen thinking; the more one had riches, the more approachable they were to Almighty God. In many religions, including Christian denominations, this thinking is prevalent today.

It is upon the faces ~ those who rule and own the goods ~ that Christ casts his broad warning glance.

Christ views this panoramic scene both from the eyes of His fully human and fully deity nature.

The text in Mark is somewhat strong, suggesting that the disciples were stupefied, disconcerted. Christ, nonetheless, had on several occasions taught them about the danger of riches, the value of poverty, that one should have his treasure in Heaven; there is where one's heart is. 

They certainly did not imagine that salvation was connected to possessions here on earth. No, this was not their belief. However, it is reasonable that some may have thought that riches are a blessing from God, and that those who have riches have more access to God in that they make large and admirable offerings, and extensive sacrifices, and thus are regarded with more favor in the communities.

On this point, we see that Christ is revolutionary. He completely contradicts the Judaen concept of His time. It is of little wonder that His disciples fear for His safety, and at times really do not comprehend Him. The remark Christ repeats, "How difficult it is for these men of riches..." would have satisfied the disciples if they really were able to understand it.

They are not only disheartened at the departure of the young wealthy man, because after all, he had kept the commandments and earnestly sought the answer to eternal life.  But they say to each other, as they have done on prior occasions, that their Master is not being practical, not sufficiently "down to earth". 

They vent among themselves, perhaps with humor, sarcasm, some with fear: "who can be saved? who doesn't own possessions?" you make it impossible for all of us!" 

They seem to be in a conflicted state. 

Christ, in His tenderness, calls them "children". It is now that He rests his glance upon them. He knows their hearts are troubled.  

There is such beauty in His words to them, such inexplicable comfort. Imagine listening to Christ:
Indeed you are children of the Kingdom, it is no small matter to save you and to detach you from the material goods.  With men of the world, this is truly impossible. With God, where your treasure is, your heart is also; and there, with Him, everything is possible.

This gentle assurance once again reinforces in them the spirit of poverty. Whether they have possessions of great value or of small worth, all the disciples feel themselves lifted up through the omnipotence of God ~ to this marvelous detachment and magnificent usage of possessions: everything is possible with the grace of God.

Tradition has it that Rembrandt had to pay one hundred guilders to buy a copy of his own work. Hence the title Hundred Guilder Print.

Famous though it may be, the etching is not representative of Rembrandt's work. Usually Rembrandt would select a single person or event, but in this print he tries to portray everything mentioned in Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18.

The central shining figure is Jesus, who by then had achieved much fame.
In the background, on the left, a group of Pharisees discuss, with some disdain, what they have just learned.

On the right is a group of sick and disabled people, who are waiting to be cured.
Sitting next to Peter is the rich youngster who has just been told that there is no place in heaven for him until he gives away his wealth to the poor. He is disappointed as he always tried to lead a faithful life.

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