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Sunday, 11 October 2015

Pulling Camels Through the Needle

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom” (Mark 10:25)
You know, I'm not sure this is as scary for rich people as you might imagine. After all, surely the whole point of being rich is you can afford to buy stuff. Like, for instance, very large needles. And, if needed, you could pay some geneticists to develop a line of dwarf camels.I've got visions of the Acme Large Needles company springing up next to the Dwarf Dromedary Development Department on  the Oxford Science Park.

It's a good image, though - a camel through the eye of a needle. Tricky at the time. Presumably would have given the hearers a bit of a laugh. Although, in the case of the richer hearers, it might have been a thoughtful kind of laugh.

This whole passage - with the readings before it - seem to be about spiritual priorities. In the previous reading, they're bringing babies to Jesus and he is blessing them rather than looking after the important people and here we've got a very rich man coming up and saying - what do I need to do to receive eternal life?

And eternal life - life with God, forever - if you believe in that, it must be the most important thing in the world. It must outweigh all other things you should want. And the man who comes to Jesus - he's certainly religious enough, as we'd see it. He doesn't break the commandments. And maybe he's hoping that Jesus will say "you're cool then. You've passed your spiritual health check. Keep it up and you'll be there. Well done you."

But Jesus does nothing of the sort. He says, give away everything you have - and follow me. And the man goes away, broken. He realises that he can't do this. Because he loves his money more than he wants eternal life.

The good news for you is, God doesn't necessarily want you to give up all your money. Of course, the bad news is that I don't know how rich you are - or how much you love the stuff. The other bad news is that this might be because there is something else - your friends, your lifestyle, your telly or your public image - that you love too much, instead.

But there's good news at the end. And if the bad news in this story came from Jesus being kind - the good news comes from what sounds like a put-down to Peter. Peter rushes up and says - well look at us - we've given up everything to follow youi.

And it's like Peter is putting his good work up against the rich man's - sure he keeps the commandments but he won't give up his money. Look at me, Lord! I've given up everything! Not strictly true as it happens - we find out at the end of John's Gospel that they still have access to the odd fishing boat. And we find out from Paul that Peter is going around on missionary journeys with his wife. Peter's wife, that is. Not Paul's. We don't know where Paul's wife got to.

And Jesus kind of puts him down - yeah, yeah, yeah - give up family and farms and you'll get them back. But that's not important, just giving random stuff up -that's not what brings you eternal life. You can't earn it, Peter, any more than the rich man. You'll get it all back. But the important thing is that you do it for me and the Gospel.

And Jesus concludes by saying the first will be last, and the last first. The ones who thought that getting to heaven would be a pushover - the powerful, the respectable, the rich, the tidy - they're the ones that will have the trouble being in God's kingdom. They've got too much they want to hang onto here. But the last - the people who hang on lightly to what this world offers, the ones who don't value their belongings or their images - the ones who maybe aren't proud of themselves - they're the ones who can find it easy to follow Jesus, to hear a Good News that God is a welcoming, loving God - because they don't have much to weigh them down.

Quick quote, apparently from Bishop Desmond Tutu. Though I follow Mark Twain's motto, "don't trust anything you read on the Internet." Still - "God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low." I think that's pretty good news for all of us. It's not about showing you've got a tick list of all the things you've got right, it's not about earning your way into heaven. It's about loving God more than anything else - and knowing that God loves you even better than that.

1 comment :

  1. Evelyn Waugh gives wealthy Lady Thing in Brideshead Revisited a nice deconstruction of this saying. In the first place, animals are always doing fantastic things in miracles, so maybe a camel could...?
    In the second, it is possible to sin by coveting the fast track the poor have here, so best not worry about it.
    Neat, eh?

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