Updated: Feb 6
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
This is the Gospel selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, Year B 2018. In the numbering system that lists each Sunday in an ordinal fashion, this Sunday is referred to as Proper 23. It will next be read aloud in an Episcopal church by a priest on Sunday October 14, 2018. It is important because Jesus set the standards high for those who want to enter Heaven. He then specifically told his disciples that worldly wealth, possessions and material things are the greatest distractions that will keep those from the eternal reward of rejoining God.
Mark does not make this clear, and neither does Matthew, but Luke’s version of this story identifies the “man” who “ran up and knelt before [Jesus]” as, “a certain person ruler” (from “tis auton archōn”). Because John named Nicodemus as “a ruler of the Jews” (from “archōn tōn Ioudaiōn – John 3:1), using the Greek word “archón” [which means “A ruler, governor, leader, leading man; with the Jews, an official member (a member of the executive) of the assembly of elders”], one can assume this repetition identifies a known character and not a stranger.
I have a strong feeling that it was this wealthy Pharisee Nicodemus that came and knelt before Jesus. Keep in mind, Jesus had gone beyond the Jordan (Bethany Beyond the Jordan) and had not long before been tested by Pharisees about divorce in that place. This encounter would be after that Sabbath (possibly the next), but it means Nicodemus (as a ruler of the Jews) was apprised as to Jesus’ whereabouts and knew where he could find him, outside of Jerusalem. It means this was not a chance encounter.
It is important to realize that the Jewish rulers had varying views on the afterlife. The Sadducees did not believe there was one. They saw studying the Torah and Scriptures as the purpose of a pious life lived, and then you die. The Pharisees believed in Sheol, such that souls left a dead body and congregated in a netherworld, just hanging out until the Messiah came and freed them. I doubt many Pharisees believed in the Messiah as much as they believed in Sheol.
It was Jesus who spoke publicly about “eternal life.” This is why Nicodemus sought out Jesus to question him about that concept.
Jesus was quoted in John, when Jesus was having a confrontation with the rulers of Jerusalem, because he healed a lame man at the pool of Bethesda on a Sabbath. Jesus said (among other things), ‘“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) This was then something Nicodemus would have heard, quite some time earlier in Jesus’ ministry. Two years later, it is questionable why he felt the need to quiz Jesus about this topic. Therefore, one can assume Nicodemus was trying to trap Jesus into making a statement of heresy.
One thing that supports my belief that it was Nicodemus (a certain man, not an unknown man) is his address to Jesus was similar to that overheard by John, when Nicodemus visited Jesus after night had come. Nicodemus said then, “Rabbi (from “Rhabbi” – Master), we know that you have come from God, a teacher (from “didaskalos” – teacher).” He then said that the proof for his conclusion was seen in the miraculous “signs” Jesus had done, which could only be done by a man of God. Now, we read this certain person ruler” gets on Jesus’ bad side by calling him “Good Teacher” (from “Didaskale”).
The capitalization of “Good” is an error of translation into English, as the Greek shows the address as “Didaskale agathe,” where “good” is in the lower case. That means there is no importance that is necessary to apply to the word; just the scope of meaning. As such, agathe has two viable uses. One is as a most generic statement of politeness and a the other is intended to be a word that “describes what originates from God and is empowered by Him in [one’s] life, through faith.” That means one word can have very different intentions.
Jesus asked him, “Why do you call me good?” because he wanted the ruler of the Jews to explain his meaning behind his word choice. Jesus knew this man was a leader of the Jews, so “good” should be reserved for comparisons to God. However, Jesus also knew the man was a member of a sect that was his enemy.
Jesus immediately ignored the question about eternal life, because this man was recognized. Jesus knew he was one of the ruling Jews who had tried to charge him with working on a Sabbath and had just recently tried to stone him for blasphemy, after Jesus said he was the good shepherd. At that time, Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
By asking about eternal life, Jesus knew the disapproval of Nicodemus, as the opinion of Jesus held by the man questioning him was not “good.” Jesus knew “good” was a generic ploy, used to win favor. As such, the question Jesus asked went unanswered, as it was rhetorical, with Jesus immediately knowing Nicodemus was a wolf in sheep’s clothing trying to entrap him.
Jesus then followed his question by answering it, saying, “No one is good but God alone.”
In one sense, Jesus said, “If you think I am good, then you think I am God incarnate as a human being.” Nicodemus had said to Jesus that the rulers of Jerusalem knew only a man such as Jesus could do the signs of understanding, unless he was from God and God was with him. Still, the answer Jesus gave made a powerful statement that one alone (without being from God and with God) cannot be good.
That statement as the answer to Jesus’ question then both slapped Nicodemus in the face by calling him a hypocrite (where the Greek word hupokrités means “actor, pretender”). He was pretending to say Jesus was good, when he thought he was bad; Jesus let Nicodemus know he knew his heart and mind. Then, on the backhand, Jesus slapped him again by telling Nicodemus he was bad, not good, because none of the rulers of Jerusalem were from God or with God.
Hypocrites! Get a real job!
The truth of this statement goes beyond the rulers of Jerusalem to forever fit those who pretend to be “good,” but stand “alone,” not being married to God, and not being one with His Holy Spirit.
The Greek words that translate perfectly as “God alone” are “heis ho Theos.” The translation demands one omit the article, “ho,” as unnecessary, so the literal becomes “alone God.” However, the same words can clearly state, “one together God,” meaning the only ones who qualify as being “good,” in the religious sense of the word, are those who are like Jesus, having joined as “one with God.”
Think about that when one analyzes Scripture and fails to see the bad guy as oneself. Everyone is like Nicodemus, and not like Jesus, when they pretend to be “good,” as defined by one who goes to church and says, “Jesus is a good teacher.” No one is like Jesus, unless he or she has sacrificed self-ego to make room for God in one’s heart.
When God is in one’s heart, one is then the wife of God (regardless of human gender), which leads to giving birth to Jesus Christ within. Jesus Christ resurrected within one’s being, with the Holy Spirit merged with one’s soul and one’s brain led by the Mind of Christ, makes one “good” in a religious sense. Otherwise, one stands “alone,” not “one with God.” Therefore, Nicodemus was not the only one of his kind.
At this point, Jesus then began to recite the Ten Commandments, which are the most known of the six hundred thirteen commandments listed in the Torah. Jesus began listing them because he recognized Nicodemus as one who taught the law, which meant he had memorized the laws, as a lawyer.
Being a lawyer had made Nicodemus a rich man, while he was still a young man. He was a ruler of the Jews, while much younger than the older scribes and priests of the Temple. Nicodemus was a ‘fast-tracking’ ruler, an up-and-coming go getter, who was fast making a name for himself.
Jesus was young too and Nicodemus saw himself in Jesus. Nicodemus was young enough to appear as still learning, thus he presented himself as ripe for Jesus to fill him in on some things. His wealth, however, was worn on his skin, in his clothing, which was his way of letting everyone know he was an important man of the law, due the respect of those who made him rich. Nicodemus was attempting to lure Jesus with the thought of powerful donations, as a show of how he wanted to follow Jesus secretly through financial contributions. Jesus was young in years, but eternally wise from the Mind God gave him.
When Jesus said, “You know the commandments,” he used the Greek word “odias,” which focused the second person “you” onto a word that means, “be aware, behold, consider, and perceive.” Jesus did not state that Nicodemus knew the meaning of the Law, but instead he implied that he had memorized the letter of the law, by seeing it with his eyes and thinking about it with his brain. By Jesus reciting six laws, Jesus was slapping Nicodemus around some more, like saying, “Yada, yada, yada, this law that law.” (I know, I know, I know, this law that law.) His mentioning those memorized laws was akin to saying, “You perceive the laws like a little child beholds them.”
Jesus then demonstrated he knew the soul of Nicodemus. He told him the laws as children are taught and Nicodemus exclaimed, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” That statement was the truth; such that “ephylaxamēn” meant “I have kept my eye on” what I learned as a child.
Not once, since having learned the laws as a “youth,” did Nicodemus ever progress beyond a child’s understanding of that which he was taught. Think about how well that fits Christians today, who prove their distaste for Bible Study by their staunch resistance to attending and participating in an adult discussion of understanding, trying to grasp what the laws mean.
As a young man, he had gotten rich off his child-like understanding of the laws. It is easy to not break any laws when Jewish customs were designed to lead everyone to legally upstanding lives. Nicodemus had followed all the customary rituals, avoiding overt conflict with the Law. Still, he commonly used deceit (as he was then with Jesus). He committed adultery by loving material objects more than God, while calling himself a teacher of the law. Nicodemus regularly stole from Jews, but he felt exonerated by only taking that which was allowed a lawyer. He also made it a practice to bear false witness on those (like Jesus) who did not think like him. As a teacher, he defrauded the Jews who came to him for learning, because he knew nothing about spiritual matters. Finally, he honored his father and mother with trinkets, instead of love. Jesus then named the laws he knew Nicodemus was obviously guilty of breaking.
Think about how people today are just as blindly justifying their acts against the Law as usual and customary, acceptable because others act in the same ways.
We then read how Jesus responded to the child-like glee of Nicodemus, when he exclaimed how he had kept his brain on the laws since his youth (remember, he was still a young man), by reading, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” This is a good lesson on the meaning of “love.”
The Greek word “emblepsas” says that Jesus “looked into” Nicodemus, which means he went beyond the surface features and peering deep into his soul spirit. That says Jesus knew the truth about Nicodemus. The next statement, separated by comma as a subsequent step from this insight of Nicodemus, says, “Jesus loved” Nicodemus. Knowing Jesus could not have seen a warm, soft heart within Nicodemus, knowing he was trying to set a trap as an enemy, one needs to realize this is a lesson about how one “loves an enemy,” which is different than loving neighbors and loving family.
The word translated in the past tense of “love,” is “ēgapēsen.” As a form of “agapaó,” Jesus then displayed how “love” is to be read in all the Gospels, where Jesus is remembered by child-like brains as a “love” child of God. The implication is how Jesus “loved” an enemy, as Nicodemus was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
One does not “love” an enemy by accepting all that is evil about an enemy as one’s own, offering forgiveness of sin. Jesus “loved” Nicodemus by telling him why he was an enemy, in the eyes of God. He “loved him” by telling him how to change [remembering Nicodemus had asked Jesus how he could be guaranteed eternal life], so God would be pleased with his soul. Therefore, Jesus “loved” by telling the truth, as much or as little as that might hurt, because Nicodemus needed the truth be told to him.
This is an important point that needs to be dwelled upon. Everyone who goes around pretending to be speaking for Jesus by saying, “Jesus said to love everyone,” is speaking from a complete lack of understanding of what “love” means. This example of Jesus showing his “love” for a man who obviously was seeped in the sin of self-worth, as projecting from his self-confidence and his rich dress, was not shown by Jesus saying, “I love your coat! Where did you get it? Can you get me a deal on one just like it?” No. Jesus “loved” Nicodemus by telling him the truth about his going nowhere close to eternal life.
The reading continues by stating Jesus said, “You lack one thing.” Actually, the Greek statement was, “Hen se hysterei,” where the capitalized word [capitalization is an indication of a word of importance] “Hen” says “One.” The capitalization says “One” bears a level of importance that needs to be pondered. When the three words together are known to say, “One you lacking,” this makes “One” refer back to Jesus having said, “one with God.”
This means that Nicodemus “falling short” or “lacking,” in life efforts towards a goal of eternal life, was not because of a thing that was lacking, but a statement that he was not One with God. Jesus so “loved” Nicodemus that he told him in his face, “You are lacking a commitment to God.”
This is not too different from Jesus scolding Nicodemus when they first met, by saying, “You call yourself a teacher of Israel and you do not understand spiritual matters?” Nicodemus was lacking that oneness with God (through marriage of his soul to Holy Spirit) then, and now (about three years later) he still lacked being One with God.
Before anyone today starts whooping and hollering, as if standing behind Jesus, hand on his shoulder, saying, “You go guy! Tell him how it is! I just love how Jesus slapped the Pharisees around!” Think about one’s self. Ask yourself, “Am I One with God?” If one cannot truthfully answer, “Yes,” then one is the common reincarnation of Nicodemus. If so, one needs to listen carefully to what Jesus then said, which is written next.
Jesus said, “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
This is more involved than first appears [as is all Scripture]. The presence of commas means Jesus gave instructions that are sequential steps that must be taken, if one is to transform a life that is lacking into one that is of abundance. That abundance comes from being One with God.
The first step, as it appears in translation is “Go.” The Greek does not capitalize this word, meaning it is not a statement of an important step that means significantly “leave.” As “go” (in the lower case), one gets the wrong impression that Jesus told Nicodemus to leave him. This is not the case, as the Greek word “hypage” means, “depart, begone, and die.” This means the first step is to “die.” This is not a physical death, as Jesus gave instructions for physical acts must follow. Instead, “die” is a statement that one must “die” of self-ego, of which Nicodemus was full of himself.
Once one has released the brain’s control over one’s actions, such that the soul has been commanded to “Get behind me!”, one is then free to choose to “sell what one owns.” The literal Greek here actually states, “hosa echeis pōlēson,” or “as much as you possess exchange.”
While people amass a great many things in a lifetime, with things necessary for life to be maintained, the greatest possession one always has is one’s soul. When one hears talk of “selling one’s soul to the devil,” the meaning implies a barter with Satan for worldly possessions. One then exchanges a spiritual promissory note for materials now.
Jesus was then less concerned with the things Nicodemus had that should be sold, as much as he was instructing Nicodemus to buy back his soul, through breaking his deal with evil. That requires the help of the Father.
When Jesus then said to Nicodemus, “and give to the poor,” the element of giving has absolutely nothing to do with giving things. If it was things that were Nicodemus’ connection to evil, Jesus then could not instruct Nicodemus to give evil to the poor. The cycle of dependency on wealth would just be passed on to others, so the poor become rich by being surrounded by evil things.
The instruction was to share his reclaimed soul’s spiritual wealth with those who were spiritually poor. This is the duty of an Apostle. Jesus was sharing his spirituality with Nicodemus, because, as materially wealthy as he was, Nicodemus was spiritually impoverished. This, again, is how Jesus “loved him.”
When Jesus then said, “and you will have treasure in heaven,” this is the promise of eternal life that Nicodemus first asked about. The promise of a soul going to Heaven is based on first “possessing” (“and you will have”) the “wealth” (“treasure”) that comes from a soul being married to God, through baptism by the Holy Spirit. All of that makes one “a storehouse for precious things” (from “thésauros”), due to the divine (the “heavens” – from “ouranō”) being “in” (from “en”) one’s flesh. This was exactly the same state that was Jesus of Nazareth, being the Son of God. Therefore, Jesus was telling Nicodemus to be like him.
That was the meaning behind the simple statement said in the segment “and come.” After Jesus said to Nicodemus, “go,” he then said, “come,” which means after “dying” of self-ego, then “become” One with God, as was Jesus. It meant to “come forth” with the Christ Mind, which was not limited to only one body of human flesh. While it was limited to ALL who would be just like Jesus the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One), Jesus was telling Nicodemus (and ALL who read this Scripture) to “become” him, in duplicate. There is plenty of God to spread around, so ALL can be One with God; but it is up to each individual to choose that arrangement.
This is why Jesus ended his series of instructions with “follow me.” The Greek word “akolouthei” means, “accompany, attend, and follow,” but the English word “follow” is defined as: “To move in the direction of; be guided by,” as well as, “To adhere to; practice” and “To come after in order, time, or position.” [American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition] This means Jesus had no intention of making a disciple out of Nicodemus; but, he encouraged him to become a subsequent Jesus of Nazareth on the face of the earth, as an Apostle of Christ, One with God.
“When [Nicodemus] heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”
The Greek word “stygnasas” is translated as “shocked,” but it also means his face dropped. Nicodemus took on a “gloomy appearance,” “having a somber countenance.” This change of face, from the happy rich, young ruler of the Jews, who called Jesus “good,” was the same change that came over the face of Cain, when the Lord looked with favor on Abel’s offering, not telling Cain, “Oh, and because I love you too Cain, your offering is peachy-keen.”
The truth hurts, so like Cain, who “was very angry, and his face was downcast,” (Genesis 4:5) one can imagine Nicodemus was not simply saddened by the words of Jesus. He was steaming with anger inside. That would be the changed countenance that would go back to Jerusalem and be fully on board with the plotting and planning of Jesus’ murder. The spirit of Cain had been resurrected within him.
With Nicodemus leaving angry, Jesus was left standing with his disciples. They had heard the conversation with a known Pharisee, one who pretended to be a secret admirer of Jesus. Jesus knew their hearts and minds, saying to them, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” However, that “perplexed” them further.
Jesus then said to them, ““Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.”
This was stating the capitalized spelling of “Tekna,” which meant Jesus knew the brains of his disciples were immature. He also knew they were pure and innocent, as the “Children” of God. They had heard Nicodemus ask the question, “How can I be assured of eternal life,” which was little more than seeming hot air, as words spoken only by Jesus. They too wanted to be assured, but then Jesus was saying eternal life in Heaven (God’s kingdom) was “hard to enter!”
Gulp. Ruh roh.
The reference to “the eye of the needle” was not impossibility, but one that was known to demand hard work. That was the name of a gate into Nazareth, which was too small for a fully laden camel to get through. It was a gate where the camel had to be off-loaded outside the gate, and then the wares would have to be hand-carried inside the gate. The camel could then get inside the gate another way, where it could be reloaded in order to get to the merchants in that area of Nazareth. That would demand a lot of effort. Therefore, the reference meant, “Getting to Heaven requires doing all the necessary work, just like the work required to get a camel through “the eye of the needle” gate.”
The reading then continues, stating, “[The disciples] were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”’ This says that they were unfamiliar with “the eye of the needle” gate, as they were not suppliers of merchants that used camels. They simply knew camels were large animals and needles had very small eyes. They heard what Jesus said as a completely impossible task (much like children would).
In the Greek, which is translated as “Jesus looked at them,” the capitalized “Emblepsas” is found, which was the same word we heard read about Jesus “looking at” Nicodemus. This is, again, not with physical eyes, but with the All-Seeing Eye of God, as the importance of capitalization would imply. It says that the disciples whispered quietly, so as to not be overheard by Jesus, because asking, “Who can be saved” was a question akin to, “Why are we here?”
They were doing the grunt work for Jesus, thinking that would get them into Heaven. They believed he was a Prophet, greater than John the Baptist. Peter had even spoken in tongues, saying, “You are the Messiah,” but after all their time spent with Jesus there was only hiss word as a promise. Considering all the work they had already done, getting a camel through a needle’s eye was reason to quit and go home.
Because Jesus knew his disciples were talking doubtful language among themselves, he said to them, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” This translation only hints at the importance of Jesus’ words.
The Greek states, “Para anthrōpois adynaton.” The capitalized first word is then important to realize as “Alongside” or “By the side of.” That is an important statement of one not being One with God, even though a “man” or “human being” stands close to God, as did the rulers of the Jews. Close was not the same as united as One.
Simply by being important “men” that said they were “by the side of” God, the Pharisees and other rulers of the Jews were not capable of entering Heaven. Heaven only was an opening for those who were not excess baggage, like a camel carrying a load on its sides that has to be removed to get inside. The ones doing the work of the righteous are those who are granted entry into Heaven.
That made “men” like Nicodemus be symbolic of the bundles of wares “alongside” a camel, too much width to get through a tiny opening. While they would not understand these words until the disciples had become Apostles, the Greek here says, “Alongside Jesus of Nazareth (a man),” – not one reborn as Jesus Christ in one’s being – entrance into God’s kingdom was “impossible.” No mere “man” is “incapable” of that “power” alone.
This means that when Jesus added, “But not for God; for God all things are possible,” the point was that those who were One with God, entry into God’s kingdom was not only possible, but assured in advance. While the disciples had not yet matured as those who were One with God, they were the Children of God, with Jesus raising them to fulfill that expectation (with the exception being Judas Iscariot). Jesus, thus, stated that exception to his disciples, because the rulers of the Jews were “Alongside men”; the Children were “subservient boys” in the Eye of God.
We then see how Peter again rose up and spoke for the group: “Peter began to say to [Jesus], “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”
A wife’s argument is, “I left everything for you.”
He said this because none of the disciples were getting rich from doing the chores that allowed Jesus to travel in ministry, safely and securely. Peter spoke as an intern at a law firm, where it was understood that grunt work now would pay off later. While none of the disciples ever expected to be rich and powerful like the rulers of Jerusalem, there was some glimpse of possibility that they would be given the talents to do the miracles of Jesus. That ability alone would ensure some ability to gain donations and a reputation of having graduated from the Jesus of Nazareth School of Law.
This is worthy of self-comparison also, as Peter speaking is no different than Nicodemus speaking. Peter spoke for the disciples then, just as he speaks for all Christians that do all the donations of time and money, while serving some capacity in a church organization, and allowing conscience to keep them from turning away from temptations to sin, for the most part. Those times they do backslide and sin, it is usually less than a big law broken and they feel guilt, so they confess their sins to Jesus and ask for forgiveness.
In this way, does a Christian today not ask, “I have given up more than most to serve you Jesus, so why is that not enough to assure myself of getting into Heaven?”
This means Jesus told Peter, the other disciples, and you the reader and listener: “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”
Jesus knew who had sacrificed things, as that which is external to oneself – houses, family, property – which would be repaid “a hundredfold” forevermore. The sacrifice of people, places, and things was the destruction of all that built up external support for a self-ego, such that when those things were gone, the will to resist God’s Will would fall down. Submission to God would mean sacrifice now, for reward to come both “in this age and the age to come.” The reference to ages is then summarized as “eternal life.”
That reference then returns the focus to the question by Nicodemus, where the assurance of eternal life was repeated. Sacrifice of self for God brings that assurance. One has to lose the ego to become One with God. Sacrifice means taking a lowered position, in subservience and subjection to a higher power. The disciples had done that. The Pharisees of Jerusalem had not. Thus, Jesus ended the reading by saying, “