Camel through the eye of a needle
Jesus was always using comic imagery to make His points.
If you know the Lord and don’t speak of Him, it’s like using a bucket as a lamp shade.
If you’re a hypocrite, you’re like a tutting eye doctor, blinded by a plank of four by two.
If you’re trying to be good but not born again, you’re like a thorn bush trying to produce figs.
And if you’re trusting your earthly currency to buy a heavenly welcome, there’s more hope of threading a camel through the eye of a needle. Let’s listen in to the context.
Jesus has just spoken on our need to be utterly child-like and dependent. But a rich young ruler seems to want to take a different route into the kingdom…
“And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16)
Had the man been listening to Jesus? His approach could not be more different to that of these little children, gathered up in the arms of the King. Here is a man trying to earn it.
To the helpless, Jesus opens His arms and bids them come. To the self-confident, Jesus employs a very different tactic.
“And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matthew 19:17-19)
Jesus uses the commandments to undermine the man’s self-reliance. But it’s not working:
“The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” (Matthew 19:20)
What does he lack? Everything. He lacks everything. The ten commandments are not meant to be a tick-box form to reassure the moral. They describe the life of heaven – the life of God’s son. So Jesus lays it all out for this man. Effectively He asks “Can you be the perfect Son of God? Can you live my life – the life of utter self-giving?”
“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” (Matthew 19:21-22)
Finally the law exposes the man. There he stands in the presence of his only Hope for salvation. He should confess his need and cry for deliverance. He should take the position of an undeserving “little child” and ask for Christ’s blessing. But instead he leaves. It is tragic.
Perhaps Christ speaks these next lines within earshot of the rich young ruler:
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24)
A camel through the eye of a needle is more than a little tricky. Even with a food processor! Camels can’t go through needle eyes. And rich people can’t get through the gates of heaven.
It’s a shocking teaching.
“When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25-26)
The disciples are exceedingly amazed because, to them, the rich seem the best resourced, the most blessed – those with most to offer. If their resources don’t count, then what currency will be accepted in the bank of heaven?
Especially when we consider how good this rich man has been. Neither his earthly means nor his morality qualify him for the kingdom.
Jesus will not give us even a glimmer of human hope in this teaching. His point is not that the camel should go on a diet. He’s not saying we should grease the beast and push. He’s saying that it won’t happen, it can’t happen, it never will happen. Rich people can’t get themselves into heaven. Even good rich people can’t get themselves into heaven.
It is impossible. From the human side of things, heaven is as open as a pin prick, and we are camels. But the view from God’s side is very different. From His side, heaven is as open as the arms of Jesus, and we are children.
But which will it be? The gates of heaven turn on this question: Will we be reliant or resourceful? Will we approach Him with our dependence or our desert?