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The eye of the needle (Mark 10:23-31)

Updated: Jan 27, 2021

In Mark 10, verses 23-31, Jesus has a conversation with his disciples about the unexpected difficulties people will find along their path to righteousness.  Jesus had just told a young rich man he had to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor, then follow Jesus.  The rich man had walked away mournfully, having not heard what he wanted to hear.

In the conversation, Jesus told the disciples, “It is easier to get a camel through the eye of the needle than it is to get a rich man into the kingdom of God.”  In case that seems like impossibility, look at this picture.

Little door, big camel.

Little door, big camel.

 The “eye of the needle” in the gate of kahn in Nazareth

The little door is the “eye of the needle.”  There is a camel.  Think about the possibility of getting that camel through that door.  It is possible; but the camel has to be stripped of all its load, it has to get on its knees, and it has to have someone motivate it to go to all that trouble to get through a small entrance.

Now, look at what Jesus said when Peter exclaimed, “We have left everything to follow you!”  He told them all, “With man it is impossible, but not with God.”  That says man alone has as much chance of getting into heaven as a camel has thinking, “You know, I bet I could get through that door if I just stripped bare, got on my knees and shinnied through.”  That will never happen, thus it is “impossible.”  However, “with God” you can make it.

The Greek preposition translated as “with” (used three times – “With man,” “with God,” and “with God”) is “para,” meaning, “beside, next to, nearby.”  The word “with” is defined most generally as “in the company of, accompanying.”  The word “beside” means, “in addition” and “at the side of.”  In either way, God must be accompanying one in that transformation and that passage, from outside the gate to within the kingdom.  Still, if God takes up space “next to” one, the doorway is only wide enough for one at a time.  That means God must accompany one by being within, not without, or “ahead,” as the motivation, not behind, as an external force.  You have to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God to get to that heavenly kingdom; with God’s help, but by your own desire.  Nothing less will do.

The gate to God’s kingdom is that portal between the physical world and the spiritual realm.  The saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.”  That references all the stuff you load on your back and wander through life bearing, which does not transfer with a soul at death.  Keep in mind, when you enter this life you are a baby, naked, with complete innocence and purity.  Also, remember how Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. “

The difficulty involved in getting a rich man into heaven, as seen in the rich man who went away sad, is we forget the spiritual world exists and heap all of this material plane on our plates as we can.  Once our brains take over our lives, earthly delights blind us from seeing just how illusionary materialism is.  “Money can’t buy happiness,” some have said; but that is an easier lesson told than followed.  When forced to do without, we find that a bitter pill to swallow.

Think about how often you frown at the beggar holding his hand out to you on the street corner, but smile and reach back to shake the hand the banker-car salesman-politician extends to you.  We like to “donate” our time and some of our purse “to the poor,” all while spitting at the family member who is the “black sheep,” and cursing at the member of a political party opposite of yours.  We love playing god, through humanitarian causes designed to give what someone else has to those who are without.  “Take some of this.  We can’t get enough!”  It may not seem like a love of wealth, but that which makes us “rich” in our minds, if it is not God, then it is our addiction to riches we simply cannot give up.

The rich man who quizzed Jesus was a Jew and a follower of the Law.  He was following the book that God sent, via Moses, to live by.  But, that was an external command, a force behind all things done.  Take away the Law and where would the rich man be?  Richer?  Further away from heaven?  We seek confirmation that our lusts will be acceptable to God.

For those who pray before meals, and who join hands before the mealtime prayer, is there ever a time you privately think, “Why didn’t I sit somewhere else.  Now I have to hold ______’s hand.”  Do you ever plan to stay away from people, but just can’t avoid them for multiple reasons; and when you are around them you pretend to be their friend?  Can you see that as a load you are bearing?  Can you see that even if you gave away all your wealth but still held onto grudges and feelings of superiority, then you still are too wide to get through the eye of the needle?  You cannot get small enough without God BEING in you.

R. T. Tippett.

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