Summary: A camel can go through the needle’s eye
19th Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 23] October 11, 2009 “Series B”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we come to worship in order that we might be near to you and learn from you how we might live our lives as disciples of your Son, Jesus the Christ. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to focus on your Word, especially as it is revealed to us through your Son. Teach us to love what you command, even when it is hard for us to understand, that we might grow in your favor and witness to your love to those around us. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Our Gospel lesson for this morning is one of my favorite passages in all of the New Testament, but I doubt if you can guess why. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with my burning desire to preach to you that if you really want to inherit eternal life, you need to sell all that you have, give it to the church, so that I can be insured of a decent salary until I retire.
The truth is, thanks to the introductory lecture of Dr. Larry Toombs, my professor of Old Testament at seminary, this was the lesson that he chose to teach us future pastors how studying the Old Testament can inform our understanding of the New Testament. And I must admit, that after that first class with him, I was totally hooked on his class, and the insights that he provided. So I invite you this morning to step back in time with me, to this class that this scholar taught that began to open my mind to begin to see the depth of our Lutheran theology.
Well, we just heard the story. This really religious guy comes to Jesus, falls at his feet and asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Now, I say that he is a really religious guy, because as the scene unfolds, he reports to have obeyed all of the commandments, since he was a young boy.
Now, I know I’m a Lutheran pastor. I know that I dedicated my life to serving God, and proclaiming his Word to you. But, I can’t make the claim that I have kept all of the commandments, as they ought to be kept. In fact, I would guess that if you would like to line up behind Josie, most of you would have something to complain to me about.
But moreover, because of this man’s obedience to the will of God, he is blessed with success in the business world. In other words, he had a lot of bucks – several homes, in various parts of the world, the latest electronic gadgets, all that neat stuff that is supposed to make us happy. And yet, this guy seems to be lacking something, otherwise, why would he seek out Jesus, and ask what he must do to inherit eternal life?
And now we come to the crux of the issue. We are told that Jesus loved the man, and so Jesus invites the man to go and sell all that he has, give it to the poor, and come and follow him. But unlike Andrew, Peter, James and John, this man did not just drop everything he had to follow Jesus. Rather, we are told that he turned his back on Jesus and walked away, grieved because he had so much wealth.
Then we hear these chilling words from Jesus, words that even perplexed his own disciples. Jesus says, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth 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." And the disciples respond, “Then who can be saved?”
For how many years, every time I heard this passage about a wealthy person seeking to inherit the kingdom of God, I pictured this great big camel, loaded down with commercial goods, trying to squeeze through this itsy-bitsy hole in the end of one of my mother’s sewing needles. In fact, as a child, I can remember the frustration I experienced just trying to get a piece of thread through one of those holes in a needle. So it didn’t take long for me to reach the conclusion that it was simply impossible for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, and therefore, I concluded, one must be poor to enter the kingdom of God.
But then, during Dr. Toombs’ opening class, I was given a different perspective on this text. From studying the Old Testament, we learn that most of the large cities, such as Jerusalem, had security walls built around them. These walls had several large gates, which would be opened during the daylight hours so that the trade caravans could easily enter and exit the city. But at sunset, these large gates would be closed for security, and not opened until sunrise.