By Femi Aribisala
The rich inherit this life but fail to inherit the life to come.
A while ago, my wife and I were invited to a thanksgiving service. Most of us in attendance were filthy rich. Jesus says God blesses with poverty and not with riches. (Luke 6:20-25). But we were there to celebrate the “blessed” riches of a particular family. We were all gorgeously dressed, celebrating their riches and ours in song, dance, and prayers; presuming that since ours is the kingdom of men, the kingdom of God would also be ours.
After a while, Karen and I could no longer stand the deception. It reminded me of a Redeemed Church parish we once joined, only to discover the Sunday services were devoted to fashion parades. We quickly ran out of there to seek the kingdom of God in more conducive surroundings.
Rich man’s world
Without a doubt, this world is the kingdom of the rich. In the world, the rich are glorified and highly esteemed. But Jesus says: “what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15). Even mega-pastors, with their designer-suits, cortege of cars and jet-planes have long-joined the exalted ranks of the rich.
The rich are used to getting what we want. If a place is exclusive, it is usually admissible to the rich. In Nigeria we say: “Na money kill am.” That means money is a door-opener. If we are rich, the world is our oyster. We have access to the best this world has to offer.
But now we are talking about the kingdom of God where everything in this world is turned upside-down. The kingdom of God is not the kingdom of the rich. Indeed, Jesus maintains it is the rich who are handicapped in entering the kingdom of God. The poor can afford the entrance-fee but, paradoxically, the rich cannot afford it. The rich fail to appreciate that: “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15). Solomon echoes this, saying: “the ransom of a man’s life is his riches.” (Proverbs 13:8).
The price for entering the kingdom of God is precisely what the rich cannot afford to pay. The cost of eternal life is a man’s life. Jesus says: “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25). However, the rich love our lives. We consider ourselves to be blessed precisely because of the privileged lives we live. We do everything in our power to safeguard our possessions. We consider our riches in this world to be worth two in the kingdom. Therefore, we are loath to forsake all for the sake of gaining a kingdom we are not even sure exists.
When Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he has and give to the poor in order to inherit eternal life, the price was too high for him to pay. Matthew says: “When the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Matthew 19:22). Accordingly, the rich inherit this life but fail to inherit the life to come. Thus, James warns: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!” (James 5:1).
The poor, however, hate their life and should therefore have little problem forsaking it. It should not be difficult for a man to relinquish what he hates. But some poor folks fall into the cul-de-sac of aspiring to be rich on earth, at the expense of seeking the kingdom of God. Those in this predicament often end up with double-jeopardy. They might not inherit this life and also fail to inherit the life to come.
Confounding the rich
Jesus says: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24). This statement has confounded rich Christians, who are determined to hold on to our riches; as well as poor Christians, who aspire to be rich. The deception of the rich has been to maintain that Jesus could not have meant heaven will be denied the rich. Some even claim Jesus’ statement is merely a reference to a small entrance on the wall of Jerusalem called “the eye of a needle,” which camels have great difficulty passing through.
But no such entrance exists. Its fabrication testifies to the inclination of the rich to make falsehood our refuge. Even Jesus’ poor disciples reasoned that without the rich, heaven would be a poor place. They asked: if those “blessed” with riches cannot be saved, who then will be saved?
According to Jesus, God makes possible the impossibility of the rich inheriting his kingdom by offering the rich the option to become poor for Christ’s sake. First, the rich must agree to be impoverished. Thereafter, God might decide to enrich you on his own terms. The first in this world must become last before it can then become first in Christ. (Mark 10:31). That is kingdom dynamics.
However, many of us simply see Jesus as a means to gaining this world. Peter queried Jesus: “See, we have left all and followed you. Therefore what shall we have?” (Matthew 19:27). Jesus asked him in return: “Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15). Can our lust of the eye and the flesh and our pride of life withstand the burning fire of God’s jealousy?
Let me tell you a parable. When I finally managed to buy a Lexus Jeep, I fell madly in love with it. It was everything I expected. I would spend hours polishing and admiring it. Then one day, my wife asked me if I loved her. I said of course I do. She said: “I want you to do me a favour. I want you to give me your Lexus.” I was flabbergasted. “But we own it together,” I protested. “No,” she said, “I want you to give it to me, so that the Jeep would belong exclusively to me.” I resisted and she sulked: “You don’t really love me.” “I love you,” I said. “Okay, I’ll buy you another Jeep.” “No,” she replied. “I don’t want another Jeep. I want your Lexus.”
After one year of nagging, sulking and complaining, I finally relented and gave her the Jeep. She said: “Are you sure?” “Yes, I am sure.” “You mean it is really mine.” “Yes. Yes. Yes.”
The next day she called me outside to see the Jeep. I thought she was washing it; it was all wet. You would not believe what happened. She struck a match and set fire to it. How was I to know she had poured petrol all over it? “What in God’s name are you doing?” I protested. Her response was a classic: “You gave me the Jeep. If it is mine, I can do whatever I want with it. And what I want to do with it is to set it on fire.”
God wants us to know what we call “wonderful” is actually “wonder-less.” Jesus says: “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33).