The Camel and the Needle
by Lenny Cacchio
Jesus once said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. That’s a hard saying. Did he really mean it? Did he mean that a rich man can never enter the Kingdom, as we all know that a camel cannot pass through the eye of a needle? On the other hand the Bible clearly indicates that many godly men from Abraham on down acquired great wealth.
Many have tried to explain this hard saying of Jesus in various ways, but clearly the disciples seemed to have taken this quite literally because they immediately asked, “Who then can be saved?” (Luke 18:26).
There is a simple explanation for Jesus’ statement, one that illustrates an effective teaching method that he used often. Jesus was a master of word pictures and hyperbole. Jesus did this all the time. He warned against straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24). No one took it to mean that the scribes and Pharisees were swallowing camels.
He talked about taking the speck out of your brother’s eye while there is a beam in your own (Matthew 7:3-5). No one took that to mean that people had giant two by fours coming out of their eye sockets. They got the point and understood the lesson.
I would offer that it is the same with that camel and needle thing, even though the disciples did not at first get it. Take a look at the context of this teaching.
A rich man approaches Jesus and asks him what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments and names a number of them, significantly naming the last several that deal with how we love our neighbor but omitting those that tell us how to love God. Jesus does not contradict the man when he claims that he had kept those commandments his entire life. But he does tell him that he needs one more thing — one difficult thing: To sell what he has, give it to the poor, and then follow Jesus.
By this Jesus was showing the man that while he might have done a pretty good job of loving his neighbor (the Commandments that Jesus quoted to him), he was falling short in his love toward God (the Commandments he did not quote) because he was ranking his wealth before God.
In those days a form of the Wealth and Health Gospel had infected people’s thinking. They believed that having great wealth was proof of God’s blessing, which would imply that poverty was a result of God’s disfavor. Even today many at the preaching of false teachers have fallen for this fallacy, which Jesus’ statement to the rich man should surely contradict. That’s why the disciples asked Jesus, “If the rich can’t be saved, whom God is clearly blessing, then who can be?”
Jesus, of course, said that with us it is impossible, but with God all things are possible, which happens to be a true statement about rich and poor alike.
The point to be made might sound almost heretical. Yes, we accept the Bible as the inspired word of God. But we have to be careful when we take things too literally. We use figures of speech when we talk. We must also accept that Jesus did too.
Lenny Cacchio has a blog on the Bible Sabbath Association website. You can follow him at the following weblink: http://biblesabbath.org/index.php?pr=Lenny_Cacchio_Blog
This blog was originally posted on May 14, 2016