The camel and the needle (or how to get into heaven)

23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It 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.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Oh, the trouble of this passage. It demonizes wealth, it places obstacles between us and the Kingdom of God (often translated to be heaven). When preachers (and lay people) aren’t comfortable with what this passage says about material wealth, they posit a theory that there was an actual place called the eye of the needle and it was a very narrow canyon that was difficult for camels to pass through — difficult, but not impossible.

On the other hand, those who wish to curb our consumerism and warn us against our search for wealth and glory (or wish to shame or scare people into giving up what they have), turn this verse into a black and white statement. A camel can’t get through the eye of a needle (clearly), the rich cannot get into heaven (but for the grace of God, if the preacher is a grace kind of preacher).

On one hand, nothing is asked of us, and nothing really is said to us. On the other, having is demonized, poverty lifted up, and we have a checklist for things we can’t do to get into heaven (yes, I know I’m over simplifying).

I tend to fall on the side of wealth is bad, Jesus wants us to get rid of our possessions and follow him (cause, um, he like says so. A lot. Right before this passage, even). Even though I am rich in material possessions, I want to preach, “DOWN WITH THE RICH! UP WITH THE POOR! SALVATION FOR THE LEAST OF THESE, HELLFIRE FOR THOSE WHO DON’T GIVE TO OTHERS!” I really do. I’m more comfortable damning myself for what I have than a sketchy geological fabrication that lets everyone off way too easy.

Then I went to the Greek. The Greek (which is the best we have as far as original source material), reads more like this:

“How hard will it be for the ones who trust in money to be entering into the kingdom of God.”

There are two things about this that are huge for me.

The first is the glaring difference between those who have money and those who trust in (or have confidence in) money. It isn’t about what you have, it is about what you value, what you trust in. Do you trust in God, or do you trust in money (and therefore, yourself)?

The second is the phrase, “to be entering into.” The camel doesn’t go through the needle and *BAM* — heaven. It’s not an end of life, when you’re dead where do you go kind of thing. It’s not do this and fly with the angels, do that and burn in hell kind of thing. That’s not what this conversation is about. It’s about here and now. It’s about a daily process of entering into God’s presence, experiencing God, filling up with God. If you are placing your trust in your wealth, if you are depending on yourself, if you aren’t putting God first, you will have a really hard time entering into the kingdom of God. In this moment. In this place. In this world, here. The kingdom of God isn’t a far off place that we go to when we die, it is a reality we can create experience (or not) every moment of every day through what we value and how we behave. Trusting in wealth, gripping tightly to our material possessions makes it a lot harder to let God in because we are so full of ourselves, our own worries and our desire for control. We have to let go of that stuff, to be willing to let go of our material possessions, of our need for control, in order to be entering into the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God we can be fully in each and every moment, we can love without fear and reservations and receive love without question. We can live into life. Or we can hold tightly to what we have, and lived gripped by fear of losing our possessions, of having our heart-broken, of losing our lives. We can live in the kingdom of the Western world, in the kingdom of me.

Which kingdom sounds better? Which one will you be entering into today?

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About Elizabeth Rawlings

Lutheran. Feminist. Child of God. Thinking about how to be a leader in a church that is trying to rediscover itself and what it means to live simply so that others may simply live in tandem with what exactly is the fast God asks of us. Chronic alliterator. Generally silly person. View all posts by Elizabeth Rawlings

4 responses to “The camel and the needle (or how to get into heaven)

  • jpserrano

    “If you are placing your trust in your wealth, if you are depending on yourself, if you aren’t putting God first, you will have a really hard time entering into the kingdom of God. In this moment. In this place. In this world, here.”

    This is some good stuff right here. I think a realized eschatology is a good solid theology.

    I have to admit I struggle with this part of your sermon,

    “The kingdom of God isn’t a far off place that we go to when we die, it is a reality we create (or not) every moment of every day through what we value and how we behave.”

    I agree that the Kingdom is not just a far off place we go when we die. But, I am not sure that we actually create it. The Large Catechism says that it comes with our without our prayers.

    I guess I want to know, how do we create the kingdom of God?

    -jpserrano

    • ERW

      Well, it’s not a sermon, more a rambling. Create might be the wrong word, because it’s not like we are the ones who make the kingdom of God — God does. But we can choose to be present in it or not by our actions/thoughts/what we value. Does that make more sense?

      • jpserrano

        Sorry, I assumed it was a sermon because it was last weeks Gospel–My bad. Yes, it makes perfect sense now. Thanks for the clarification. You articulated exactly what I think. I knew there was something about you I liked.

  • Anna Porter

    *BAM*!! Nailed (or needled??) it!! Great writing–and thinking–as always. Wish it were easier done than said.

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