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.

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