Camel Through the Eye of a Needle

I was visiting another church the other Sunday and the pastor was discussing stewardship. This led him to the Parable of the Rich Young Ruler where Jesus drops the famous line about it being ‘easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man enter the Kingdom of God.’ It started off well enough, the pastor pointed out this was a metaphor and of course rich people can go to Heaven. He explained that it was like when people say they are so hungry they could eat a horse. Then he said it could be something a little different, that there was a gate that was small, so it received the nickname “eye of the needle” and that it was so small in fact, that horses had to get down on their knees to get through. I’ve heard something of this before but decided to research it a bit.

This interpretation is somewhere between 200 years old to over 1,000 depending on who you talk to. There are also a few more interpretations that include a mistranslations so that it’s not a camel but a rope (possibly made of camel hair, in at least one thing I found) and instead of gate, it was a well known mountain pass named ‘eye of the needle’. Of course, none of these are very good interpretations, so bad, that I’m not going to even bother arguing against it because it has been done (and better) many times(Blue Letter Bible), including this Wikipedia entry that points out the idiom in other languages (it was an elephant) and even the Qur’an.

Now, I have no idea what this pastor believes. He may have read this in a commentary or somewhere else and was simply trying to educate and give more background. So, the point in not to say anything about him, but instead about this idea. How unwilling are we to accept this parable from Christ Himself? That’s what I think of when I read these other takes on it. What is wrong with us that we would take obvious hyperbole and try to downplay it? I don’t know if the fear is greater that we would offend the rich or (as American’s tend to think) one day we will be rich and perhaps risk being kept out of the Kingdom. This isn’t an attack on wealth. The rich young ruler is looking for God’s favor, he has kept all the commandments (but for God’s will or to secure his place in Heaven?) but that still isn’t enough. You can’t earn your way to Heaven.

It was common in those times for the Jews to believe that their wealth came from God’s blessing because they were good. So, for Jesus to tell him to sell everything is also counter-cultural. If he gave up his money, how would he know he was good? The more common reading, also, is that he loved his money more than God (he went away sad). We are told no one can serve two masters. If someone seeks money and not God, it is literally impossible to spend eternity with Him. It is only though Christ that we can do that. Generally, we are fine with that message, aren’t we? But there is just something about discussing money that we don’t like. We want to be able to keep out love of money and still serve Christ.

Now, maybe you can’t blame some of the pastors who perpetuate these interpretations, maybe they don’t know it was a common saying in the A.N.E., but I haven’t read commentaries that downplay the mountain that our faith moves. So we are least alright with some hyperbole and metaphor from Christ, it just shouldn’t be about money.

Edit – Colbert quotes this parable in a story, has his own take on it:—see-no-equal


Too rich?

For Halloween, I went to party at a mansion. I mean that in the fullest extent possible. One of those eight car garage, 10,000 square foot (not counting the full basement), 15 bathroom kind of houses. The ones in neighborhood that are gated with guards that have to have your name on a list to let you in, kind. Everyone’s reaction to the house was pretty much split into two groups, the jealous and the judgmental. There was a good bit of awe with people wondering what he did and another group that condemned him for him for the ostentatiousness of the house.

I went back and forth between the two. Obviously, I would love the kind of salary that would afford this house, but I doubt I could ever pull the trigger on something that nice or big and fancy. Regardless, it got me thinking about money and really how much you should spend.

This house was probably around two million dollars. That’s roughly $70K a year on a mortgage; which is more than I make in a year, but what if he makes a million? Then he is spending less as a percentage of his income than I am. What if he gives $100K to charity or $500K, then you are talking someone who spends less on his mortgage and gives more to charity than the average person. Take it a step further, say he makes $5 million and bought the house outright, then I’m the ostentatious person who took out a loan for a house.

Maybe that is too dramatic, but my point is, there aren’t clear guidelines in the Bible. No one can point to any specific verses that would tell you how big your house can be. All anyone can ever give you is the ‘love of money’ and not to chase money or serve two masters. On the other hand, there has to be a point that is too much, even if you don’t love money.

Another example, it would be pretty foolish for me to buy a BMW. I don’t think any of them are less than my annual salary. It would be poor stewardship of what God has given me to spend so much of my monthly income on that when I can’t even afford a Corolla. Someone else may be able to buy one straight up with no problems. If they did it for status or envy or some other reason, then I guess you could throw a stone. But if a guy just likes them, probably nothing wrong there. Again, though, where does it stop? What if someone can buy a Bentley? Surely there are better uses for our gifts. The issue becomes, where is that line? Should you be eating steak when people in other parts of the world don’t have clean drinking water? I really have no idea, and have struggled with this since I first read Richard Stearns ‘A Hole in our Gospel’.

It is also something I’ve been struggling with since the media storm around Steve Furtick. I know that part of what bothered people so much is that he is a pastor and I guess that means he should be poor (pastor pay should be another posts all together). If he is paying for the house out of his book sales, why should his salary matter?

But I get it. We hold our pastors to higher standards. Non-believers hold a Christian to a higher standard of living as well. Maybe that’s part of the take away here. When you appear so rich that it takes away your credibility to those who need Christ. You can’t blame someone for their income, but you have to be aware that when telling other people to give to the church and to give generously, maybe an 18 bedroom home is too much.