The Eye of the Needle
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'" He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them 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 someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible." Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age--houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions--and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."
I want to be honest with you all; I hope that's okay. It's really, really hard to be a Christian. Most days, I'm not sure if I'm up for it, simply for how much it would ask of me.
I'm good with the easy stuff-- do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not defraud. I'm not too good at keeping the Sabbath. I like to think that I'm good with the Greatest Commandment but I'm not actually sure that I love the Lord my God with all my strength, with all my heart, all my mind. Honestly, sometimes my love of gossip or of my own self-image or of beautiful things competes with my Christian commitments. Sometimes I just want to lie on my couch, scroll my phone, watch Netflix and eat my Jersey Mikes and forget that a lot is asked of me in this broken and broken-hearted world. I do love myself, but I'm not sure how far I'm willing to go to love my neighbor--to love all my neighbors--as myself.
But even if I could say confidently and with my whole chest-- "teacher, I have kept all of these commandments since my youth", Jesus asks even more of this rich young man in the Gospel of Mark and of us too. "Alright then," he says "sell all of your belongings and give the money to the poor, then you are freed up to follow me."
What a brutal proposition, I say. I do not what to sell all of my belongings. I surely want the poor to be taken care of, but there must be other deeper pockets that can take care of them. I do not really want to leave my life behind--as much as I have committed even to be a priest, there is still so much that I retain-- I'm not a monk, I'm not a Jesuit, I'm not a persecuted religious minority, it's not the 2nd century living under Roman occupation.
If you hear me reacting against this passage, you would be right--I told you I would be honest--and I wonder if you might react against it too. It's a thing we do with scripture sometimes -- bargaining with it to lessen what it asks of us, deciding it really ought to be read as just metaphorical or that it's literal but only about other people. We might say that it's a fine idea but really it's not realistic in the 21st century, given our commitments, the shape of our economy, our social circumstances.
And still, Jesus says it quite plainly: "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". I won't ask you to believe this outright; but I will ask you to imagine what it might be like if this was true, meant to be taken literally, and about us.
- What feels toughest about imagining that this passage is to be taken literally? What's the first stumbling block you find yourself tripping over?
- Can you imagine that there is as much life, as much contentment on the other side of the eye of the needle as there is on this one?
- What do you have to lose if you followed this commandment? What do you have to gain?
- Would it feel easier to take on these big commitments if your community did it all together, rather than just you on your own?
- What's one small thing you could do today to act just a little bit more like this was true?
If it were easy to believe the things we're asked to believe, to do the things we're asked to do as Christians, we wouldn't need all of this *gestures vaguely*. For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible. Our work as Christians is always to be moving towards the believing, the doing, to continually carve out a bigger and bigger imagination--large enough to hold the truths of the Gospel, to hold the truths of God. If you cannot believe, if you cannot do -- can you imagine? Can you imagine what it would be like if this was true?