The camel and the eye of a needle...
Ordinary Sunday 28: 14th October, 2018
Fr Greg Davies, Priest Assisting at St Peter's, Eastern Hill
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle,
than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
I want to begin my sermon this morning with an invitation. That is, following the service I will sitting with coffee at the end of the hall — so please feel free to come and talk to me about the readings and reflections that we have heard this morning. This is all very informal and impromptu — come with your questions, comments, ideas — feel free to challenge and question. This idea came out of our EFM group this past week as together we wrestle with our scriptures and do we not have a challenge in that regard with our gospel reading this morning when Jesus says: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.
I wish to begin our wrestling with this gospel by quoting from a reflection by a Dr Susan McGuran who says and I quote:
Words such as ... It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.
"Ever since Jesus uttered this cryptic statement, we have been busy trying to find a loophole; an escape hatch; a back door; some fine print; a way out. Ever since Jesus met the rich young ruler, we have been looking for a way to embrace this passage as Truth, without actually having to believe it or live it. We have rationalized it — Jesus was just reminding us to keep our priorities straight! After all, wealthy people support the Church and pay the bills. If there were no rich Christians, the Church might as well shut its doors and turn out the lights.
We have analyzed it — Linguists have determined that the ancient words for "camel" and "rope" are really quite similar. Maybe Jesus said it is easier for a ROPE to pass through a needle's eye... And, if you had a small enough rope, and a large enough needle... We have theologized it — The Hebrew people, like many ancient people, thought wealth was a sign of God's blessing; a mark of righteousness and worth. Jesus was teaching them new ways of looking at the world.
We have decoded it — Scholars speculate that this passage refers to an ancient gate; a gate so small, so narrow, that a camel could enter ONLY if its load was removed. So, Jesus is telling us to give some of our possessions away. Enough, at least, so we can fit through the gate.
We have ignored it. And we have embraced it — Of course Jesus really meant this, and frankly, I quite agree — those rich people SHOULD have a hard time getting into heaven. It's tough to be poor. I should know...My stock portfolio took a dive this year, and we barely have enough for a decent vacation!
McGuran's point as she goes on to explain is the challenge for us to take these words of Jesus seriously and not succumb to the temptation to tame them and thereby tame God or make God fit into our own particular circumstance or lifestyle.
So how might we take these words of Jesus seriously? Well — firstly perhaps by asking ourselves the difficult question about our wealth. Am I rich? This is not a simple question to answer because the answer I suspect will depend on your perspective or vantage point and where you are looking to or at. I think we have to be honest though that for millions in the world even some of our poorest in Australia would be seen as wealthy. However, if you are one of those poorest here in Australia who have no shelter or work — and struggle to survive day by day — that would not be the case. And the difficult questions just keep coming — is Jesus really asking us to give up everything to the poor? How would that work out if all Christians did just that? It is hard to imagine. Are these words of Jesus really only about wealth or money? Are they really more about being prepared to give up or let go of what we love and value most in our life — be that money, possessions, work, family, relationships and so on? Are these words hitting a raw nerve that remind us of the cost of discipleship and that sacrifice is really a part of that commitment to follow Christ, so much so that it will hurt. In other words — giving to those in need what we truly and honestly can and not just what is left over.
I cannot pretend to have simple or easy answers to these questions — although what I can say is that these words of Jesus do challenge me to re-think my stewardship, they do challenge me to ask the hard questions not only of myself but also of our society, our governments and our church and remind me that the bible speaks more about the evil of poverty and about care for the vulnerable than the sin of adultery for example. I could not help but think what Jesus would say when our State government if I recall correctly earlier this year boasted about having a one billion dollar surplus in its budget at the same as those in our society with mental illness or drug addiction struggle to get the treatment and support they need. Yes — these words of Jesus, at so many points and levels, I trust stir us up and indeed make us somewhat uncomfortable.
As we wrestle with these words of Jesus — the words of our second reading resonate — Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword... The words of Jesus addressed to the rich young man are also addressed to us — and I have to confess they challenge and stir up more questions but like all of Jesus' questions they do require a response. In this vein — although from a different perspective — I empathize with the disciples who replied: then who can be saved? In other words — how can we do this? Jesus reply is both reassuring and hopeful because as he says what is not possible for mortals is possible for God. By ourselves we cannot do this — but with God we can.
McGuran finishes her reflection with these words from HG Wells who said ...
... there is either something mad about the Christian message, or else our hearts are still too small to comprehend it. Jesus invited the rich young ruler into a world where the astonishing becomes ordinary. And the ordinary becomes sacred. Jesus invited him, and all of us, to enlarge our hearts—to be surprised by grace—to take a risk—to be transformed. If we have the courage to accept, maybe then, the stories of camels and needles and rich young men, won't cause us to search for a loophole, an escape hatch, some fine print, or a way out, but rather, a way in.
Views is a
St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.