“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
Okay Ladies, if your family makes more than $33,000 (which according to Investopedia.com puts you in the top 1% of the world), you have a house, you own car and can drink the water straight out of the faucet then you are among the richest people in the world. So we must figure out how to get that camel through that needle. Did you figure it out? Nope? Me neither.
I am sure many of you are familiar with the camel in the eye of the needle scripture; it is quoted a lot. Let’s review Matthew 19:16-24: a young rich man asked Jesus how he would be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus answered him that he must follow the commandments—do not kill, steal, honor your father, etc. The rich man answered “I have obeyed all these laws. What more should I do?” Jesus tells him to leave his riches behind and follow him; the rich man went away sad because he knew he couldn’t leave his comfortable life behind. Jesus then turned to his apostles and said:
“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 19:24
I used to worry about this parable, it’s a little scary. However, I once heard a pastor interpret this passage in two different ways. First, there is the threading needle with the little hole on top of it—no matter how hard you tried, it is impossible for a camel to go through a hole roughly 1/8 inch long. However, the eye of a needle can also refer to a gate in Jerusalem which was only open after the main gate was closed at night. It was a much smaller gate; therefore the only way for a camel to enter was to remove all of the baggage that it carried. During Jesus’ time, camels were used by merchants to carry their possession and livelihood.
I personally like the second interpretation; it gives me a little more hope—but is it any easier than getting that camel thru a 1/8 inch hole?
I think there are different ways to look at this story. One way is to say that the rich man had a lot of “stuff” and he didn’t want to give his “stuff” away. This is true for everyone, we do like our “stuff”: our houses, new cars, phones, computers, new clothes etc. However, I like to look at it a slightly different way, society expects us to have a certain level of “stuff”, act a certain way to increase and take care of our “stuff” and it doesn’t expect us to give up all of our “stuff” for someone. Therefore, there are expectations that we follow, just like the rich man in the story. Now let’s look at the story, God is not saying that being rich is bad or that having wealth automatically makes it harder to go to the kingdom of heaven. God had many prophets and kings who had large amounts of wealth (think of Abraham, Solomon, David, etc.). However, God expected that the rich man leave his current livelihood behind and follow him, but the rich man could not.
Here is a man who was born at the right time and the right place. Physically met and spoke the son of God, the God that was there before the dawn of the world. God reaches out his hand to the rich man; however, the rich man could not leave his earthly belongings. Furthermore, it is fair to assume that the rich man was part of or close to the 1% of that time; he probably had to follow expectation that his family, friends, and society had for him. Leaving his wealth to follow a poor carpenter, and hang out with random poor fishermen and a tax man was probably not on the list of what was expected of him.
Many of us in the US have the same expectations (set by society and our families): do well in school, go to college, find a job in a good company, get married, have a house, go to church every Sunday, save for retirement, and be good to the grandchildren. Many will not steal, kill, or cheat, etc. Furthermore, you are considered a good person if you volunteer at a food bank or if you donate money to a charity. However, how many of us would be able to leave our stuff and expectation and follow Jesus? How are we going: to pay the mortgage? Work 40 hours? Tell our boss that we need more than the allowed 2 weeks’ vacation time? Pay for our new car? Take the kids to dance class?
If you think about it God is not saying “Good luck trying to make it to heaven, Rich People”. Rather, that it might be harder for someone with many possessions and expectations to leave it behind and follow a poor Carpenter. Think about your own life, if Jesus asked you to sell everything you own, give it to the poor, and follow him. Could you do it? I know that I would struggle.