|Stone Arch Bridge & Downtown Minneapolis, jfd+, 2011|
Jesus uses a phrase in talking about rich people and the kingdom of heaven that does not mean much to our present day culture. He says, "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." Today's Gospel lesson begins right after the rich young man has gone away crestfallen having been told by Jesus to sell all his possessions, give those proceeds to the poor and then follow him. Jesus doesn't say it is impossible, but "hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven"... Hard, not impossible...And then he talks about camels and the eye of the needle. Jesus is not talking about needle and thread here...
The ancient city of Jerusalem, before its destruction by the Romans around 70 AD, had numerous entrances. One of those entrances was called the eye of a needle, because it was low and narrow. For a camel to pass through this entrance to the Holy City, it would have to get on its knees, and shuffle its way across the ground, and then upon squeezing through the entryway, labor back up onto its feet...A difficult and labor intensive task, but not impossible.
Jesus' "odd" reference in regard to rich people's entrance to the kingdom of God takes on different nuances when this cultural reference is understood. Difficult...hard work...not impossible is part of the message.
This explanation is in no way meant to advocate the misbegotten and impossible to defend "prosperity Gospel" so many misguided individuals preach and advocate. Quite the opposite is the point of this reflection. For that rich young man to "be good," and enter into this kingdom Jesus is opening for all of us, he had some substantial work to do, for his possessions had taken possession of him. Quite frankly, his priorities are screwed up Jesus is saying, and although welcome in the kingdom, there is a cost involved in that entrance. Like the camel must struggle to get through that narrow and low gate, those blessed with wealth also have work to do: to not allow those possessions to skew the reality of how the world should actually work.
One of the things we are asked to explore by these Gospel verses is: what possesses us that is keeping us from being able to walk unhindered through the narrow and low door?
Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.