Matthew 19:23-26 (VOICE) Jesus: 23 This is the truth: it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Yes, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. 25 The disciples, hearing this, were stunned. Disciples: Who then can be saved? Jesus: 26 People cannot save themselves. But with God, all things are possible.
This short passage is one almost everyone has heard. Those of us that have grown up in the church have probably heard a sermon or read a devotion that tried to explain that the message isn’t really what it seems and that the ‘eye of the needle’ was a small gate in the wall that surrounded Jerusalem. This gate, the story goes, allowed for camels to pass through, but only by walking on their knees.
It makes for a nice metaphor, and perhaps lessons the sting of Jesus’ implication that wealth and faithfulness to God are competing forces. Unfortunately, this story is just that, a story. There is no evidence that there was ever a gate in Jerusalem’s city wall called the ‘eye of the needle’. Instead, the meaning of the phrase that Jesus uses was the same then as it is now, putting a camel (the biggest animal found in this region) through the eye of the needle is intended to imply something that is very difficult or unlikely.
Jesus reinforces this idea when he answers the disciples’ question, ‘Who can be saved?’ by simply saying, ‘People cannot save themselves’. Knowing that Jesus actually means what it sounds like he means requires us to grapple with the implications of these words.
Before we go any further, it is critical that we acknowledge the fullness of what Jesus says. He does say, ‘People cannot save themselves.’ But he doesn’t end his statement there, he continues by saying, ‘But with God, all things are possible’. What this means then, really, is that the rich man (or any of us that are materially blessed) are in the same exact position as everyone else – in need of God’s help to receive salvation.
Jesus is most definitely not implying that the rich are somehow excluded from the grace and salvation of God. Instead, Jesus is calling out the obstacles to faith and trust in God that are particular to the rich.
Salvation, while a gift of grace, give to us by God is not a gift that is forced upon us. God has given us the ability to receive or reject the gift. Ultimately, the choice to accept the salvation God offers us, we must relinquish an element of control and accept that we need God’s help.
The problem with wealth is that it allows us to believe that we are responsible for the good things we have and can lead us to place more trust in ourselves than is warranted. If we trust in ourselves and in our money, or our things, it doesn’t leave enough room for God.
Those of us that are blessed financially and materially (which comparative to most of the world, is everyone reading this message) should give thanks for those blessings, remember where they came from and place our trust not on the things we have, but the one that gave them to us.
Sharing God’s Love,
Prayer : Lord, help us to trust in you and not in ourselves or in the things we have. Amen.