Friday, September 29, 2006

The Eye of a Needle

"Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said 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 a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." ~Mark 10:23-27

I've heard that one entrance into Jerusalem was very narrow and was named "The Eye of a Needle". It was necessary for a camel laden with many parcels to be unburdened of them in order to fit through the portal. It might be deduced that a rich man would have more parcels on his camel or camels and that passing his wares or goods through this entrance would be very difficult.

It has been taught that Jesus refers not to the the eye of a needle, but to this particular entrance into Jerusalem. It’s also been taught that the original Greek word translated as "camel" actually means "camel hair", and this more accurately elucidates Jesus’ teaching. I propose that neither is the case.

I believe both of the aforementioned teachings diminish the severity of Jesus' teaching and are driven by a desire for the rich to get into Heaven. This may, perhaps, be understood as a desire to serve two masters, as Jesus specifically states cannot be done (Matthew 6:24). Even we who are not rich are tempted to desire to become rich, and a cursory glance at the passage may leave us thinking the rich are excluded by that status from entering Heaven.

Whether “the kingdom of God” refers precisely to Heaven or to the body of Christ in the world, “to enter the kingdom of God” must mean to be “included in Christ” and therefore destined for Heaven.

It is much easier for a camel to pass through a portal named "The Eye of a Needle" than for it to pass through the eye of a needle. Easier it is also for a camel hair to pass through the eye of a needle than for the whole camel to pass through.

But, dependence on a narrow portal or a camel hair for understanding Jesus’ teaching in this passage are excuses for the impossibility of the Master’s statement. But the disciples understood its impossibility. This is precisely why they respond, “Who then can be saved?” However, we don’t need to stumble over this impossibility of passing an entire camel through the eye of a needle because Jesus says ever so plainly, "with man this is impossible". We must accept that “with man” it is impossible “for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” But this does not mean that a rich man cannot be saved. What follows gives even rich men hope, "but not with God; all things are possible with God."

On a different matter, why does Jesus even make a distinction about the rich? Is it not impossible “with man” for any man to be saved? Isn’t it only possible “with God” for even the poor to be saved? Does Jesus mean that it is more difficult for a rich man to respond to God’s irresistible call to come to faith than for a poor man? Alternatively, and more likely I think, he is teaching, as he does elsewhere, about the powerful temptations of wealth.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Rich Young Man

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher", he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good -- except God alone." ~Mark 10:17-18

Jesus is not saying that he is not good or that God the Father is the only one who is good. Jesus confronts the man's faith. If the man testifies, as he did, that Jesus is good, then by doing so, he has testified that Jesus is God. There is no alternative.

"You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"
"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy. "
Jesus looked at him and loved him. ~Mark 10:19-21a

Jesus said "you know the commandments" to once again confront the man's faith. We may trust the man's assertion that he had faithfully obeyed the commandments. We can be sure that Jesus knew whether it was true. We might suppose that Jesus loved the man because he truly had been obedient to the commandments, but we may also suppose that Jesus loved him because he knew the man could not have kept the commandments though he sincerely desired it. However, by asking Jesus, "what must I do", he has testified that the commandments he has kept are insufficient for salvation. In fact, in Matthew's and Luke's account, the man asks, "what do I still lack?"

The man knows something, if not everything, about Jesus identity. He comes to our Lord the same way I often have. That is, either to establish in front of witnesses that God has already approved of him or to find out what steps must yet be taken. Having no idea how to obtain Jesus public approval, I have said, "I just want to know what I must do -- what prayers I must say, what tasks I must perform, etc. -- to secure my eternal future, so that I can get that taken care of and then get on with my life."

"One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. "
At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth." ~Mark 10:21b-22

I've heard it said that the man lacked willingness to give away his wealth. He was miserly or greedy or both. This is true, but the "one thing" he lacked was not to "sell everything" or to "give to the poor". It was "come follow me", a relationship with Jesus. With all of his obedience to the commandments, the man was still in need of faith in Jesus in order to have eternal life. Even though Jesus encouraged the man, saying he would have eternal treasure, his wealth was an idol for him and stood as an obstacle.

I say in essence, "Just tell me what hoops to jump through, so I can turn my back on you." Jesus says, "Come follow me."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Happy Ol' Me

The Bible teaches us that we, having been justified by our faith in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ, now have a new nature in addition to the sin nature we have always had, now often referred to as the "old nature".

Living according to my old nature, I could be found happy, excited, and content at times or sad, angry, and discontent at other times. My old nature sought solutions to discontent from sin or, at least, from a sinful perspective on life. In fact, it is clear to me now that God used my discontent as part of his plan for leading me to knowledge of and faith in Christ. But, having assumed (quite ridiculously, now that I think about it) that the happy times I experienced with only a sin nature were not necessarily sinful in nature, I have been trying, in the course of my "new" Christian life, to find contentment by reproducing or replicating the circumstances or attitudes that seem to have led to contentment in my "old" life.

So, I now have a new nature. But I sought solutions from what satisfied my old nature. Not only do those 'solutions' fail me now, but because they come from a perspective informed only by a sin nature, those solutions are necessarily sinful, even if they don't include any of the "big" sins like murder or adultery. The Lord is our refuge. All else is idolatry.

This in spite of the many occasions in which I have reflected upon my former way of life and wondered, "how could I ever have been satisfied with that or found pleasure in it?" The simple answer is: ignorance is bliss. But, I refuse to believe that knowledge is angst. Paul addresses all these things thorougly in Ephesians.

"So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in there understanding and seperated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.
You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely, you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."
~Ephesians 4:17-24

I had some time ago memorized these passages and believed, until now, that I understood them well. Yet I learn. Contentment can be found niether from our old life nor from our old way of thinking. And, true knowledge does not result in angst or fear. In fact, Paul prays that we will have knowledge and he tells us it is precisely so that we may have not fear, but hope.

"I keep on asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritence in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe." ~Ephesians 1:17-19a

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


As we cling to the remains of the day in order to avoid 'missing out' on more fun in the form of television, video games, or whatever, perhaps we are inclined in the same way to cling to this world, fearing to 'miss out' on all the pleasure this world offers. I wonder if the desire to put off sleep is an indication of a larger desire to put off death. But death is something we should desire because the presence of God in Heaven will be even greater pleasure than, not just anything, but everything this world offers.