A Camel to Go Through the Eye of a Needle

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“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, 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” (Matthew 19:23-24). This message from Jesus troubled the disciples. In their time (and in our own) it was thought that those who were prosperous were so because they were favored by God, that they were somehow, “saved.” Like any heretical thought, this idea is only a half truth. Jesus is not saying that money is, in itself, evil. But he is warning us against the dangers of the temptations to greed and to the earthly powers that worldly wealth can often lead us into. When the disciples, in their incredulousness, ask Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus tells them, “For men (salvation) is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (verses 25-26).

Our faith, and the Holy Scriptures, tell us that our lives, and everything that is good in them, are pure gifts from our loving Father. Nothing is more valuable in all of the world than God’s love and mercy for us. When someone we know, or someone who loves us gives us a gift, it is our natural response to genuinely thank that person. In our thanks we are recognizing their generosity and love, or respect for us. But the words “thank you” are mere words. The thanks that we owe God for his magnanimous love and generosity toward us requires more than mere words or sentimentality. Our thanks to God is to live our lives in the manner that Christ lived his. Remember, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Jesus is our model for the good life, not Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, or any number of Hollywood actors, or professional sports stars. We are to be “poor” like Jesus. That is, we are to hold on to nothing that gets in the way of our ability to love as he loved. We are to be free enough, and willing enough, to give from our substance, not just our surplus, even to give our all, out of love, for the good of others. That is how we become “rich” enough for heaven.

God’s love is the only wealth worthy of our eternal souls. The wealth of the world is heavy and full of temptations. It is burdensome and demanding. It fills us with dangerous emotions like greed and the fear of not having enough. It draws our attention away from God and eternal things, to the immediate, the pleasurable, and the material. It can make us compare ourselves as better than others. Worse, it can fool us into considering those who are poor to be outside the favor of God, therefore, of little value. It can cause us to separate ourselves from them, to build walls around us to protect ourselves from them. It can make us callous, neglectful, and unjust toward the needy. It can cause us to wrongfully justify ourselves as being in the grace of God, and to believe that those who are poor, needy, and outcast are not. This is why Jesus says what he says about being rich to his disciples. It is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to get into the kingdom of God.”

Jesus is using a metaphor here to help the disciples (and us) to understand his message. One of the gates into Jerusalem in Jesus’ time was called The Needle.” It was a very narrow opening in the city wall. Camels with pack loads on them struggled to get through that narrow aperture. They often had to be unloaded in order to be able to get through The Needle Gate. Those packs represent the heavy burden of worldly riches that can weigh heavily on our souls and make “getting into heaven” difficult and, potentially, impossible. Jesus is not condemning money. He is saying that all of its seeming glamor, all of its power, and all of the worldly “benefits” it “appears” to bring to us, are nothing in comparison to the love of God and our duties of thanksgiving and discipleship. Worldly wealth becomes valuable in the Christian sense only when we use it for the good of others. We are not to “cling” to it, or to become enslaved by it. Jesus is getting us to look at worldly wealth in a different way, a way that is consistent with the Christ life. In terms of our lives as Christians, poverty of spirit is the “wealth” that we are to acquire, not gold and silver. It is this poverty that opens heaven’s gates wide for us, not our weath.

Lord, Help us to see worldly things for what they are. Fill us with a love for you that is so deep and so true that it will prevent us from turning worldly things into idols that draw us away from you. We pray this in your name, Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.